Early in my term as chief, we were mired in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The administration was pilloried in the press nightly, and while that was nothing new, we were eager to fight back. The team devised several ideas about how to reclaim the momentum.

A few that we floated to Mr. Trump would’ve had him publicly confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi about her decision to leave town instead of continue discussions. He was livid: “Dammit, Mick, I am the president of the United States. I am not going to pull off that kind of petty crap.”

His response surprised me. We’d tailored several of our options to Trump the Showman. What we got instead was Trump the President.

Mr. Trump instead addressed the nation from the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. It was the only time he did so during my tenure (and one of only a few times in his). It was a sober message on a serious topic at a tense time. It was delivered from a location that conveys gravitas in a way few others can. There’s no denying it was appropriate for the moment.

The president knew the time for showmanship and the time for serious discussion.