There are two versions of President Donald Trump that appear in public. They both inhabit the same body—the same Youppi-shaped torso pitched forward at the same implausible angles, same ghost-pale eyelids fluttering alarmingly, same resplendent candyfloss Kangol of hair stuck on top of it like a weird hat—but don’t really seem to be the same person. Both are president, and both seem somehow to have just been informed of that fact. Only one seems to be enjoying it. That one is not the Official Trump that sniffs and mutters and struggles with prompters and prepared text, and who only barely makes it through even the most rote ceremonial duties. Most of the time, though, and whenever Trump has to do something he finds boring or lame for an audience that isn’t allowed to hoot or chant, that version is the one America gets.
But if there’s a silver lining to the president’s relentless sulky childishness, it’s that it is never anything but clear when he is bored. To listen to him mumble and drowse his way through the average pseudo-somber Rose Garden appearance is to hear someone who not only can’t care about the bland cant he’s tasked with mouthing, but who also can’t really be bothered to pretend to feel any other way. The ad-libs are still there in these moments, just because Trump hates doing exactly what he was told, but they’re also listless and uninspired; in the video linked above, the best Trump manages is blearily hissing “it’s all about space” after reading various things about space off a piece of paper. This is in part because the people listening to him at such moments are reporters and poker-faced military types, as opposed to thrice-divorced car dealership guys who show up at his rallies ready to absolutely go the fuck off when Trump starts complaining about how rude Debra Messing is and really actually always has been. In front of crowds like those, Trump perks up notably.
Earlier this week, Fayetteville, North Carolina, got to see The Other Version—the sparky and weirdly shiny and luridly hopped-up Trump that shows up in front of friendly crowds. There, in front of crowds for which he can do no wrong, Trump sweats like Katt Williams and hops from one topic to the next also like Katt Williams and generally does as he damn well pleases for as long as he can manage it. The ostensible reason for Monday’s rally was to whip up enthusiasm for the Republican candidate in an open North Carolina house seat in a heavily Republican district, the original results of which were vacated after initial election results showed clear evidence of fraud by the former GOP candidate; that candidate won, narrowly, and Trump crowed about it on Twitter. That’s the outcome Trump wanted—the guy just loves winning—but the rally made it clear that Trump was not really interested in the appearance as a piece of strategic campaign messaging. He isn’t really in the message business, and in lieu of any real accomplishments, Trump deals in dark moods and tones and the highly debatable pleasure of his company. And so he took the rally more as an opportunity to loosen up and just get real wet and talk about whatever it was that popped into his head.
His powerful brain was deep in channel-flipping mode, but alighted briefly in some unexpected places. There was a digression on the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. won in June of 2018, but which Trump appears only recently to have learned about. Earlier on Monday, after meeting with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Trump had told his classic joke about extending his second term or maybe adding a third what do you think, this time using the timing of the 2026 World Cup as his justification. This was just a few hours before heading to North Carolina, and Trump was honking and clearly not excited by any of it. “Gianni and I just had a meeting on women’s soccer,” Trump told the press, “and what everybody is going to do to make that better and more equitable, et cetera et cetera.”
Later, in amphetamized Wet Trump mode, he recycled that material for the famously soccer-mad Republican partisans of Fayetteville, North Carolina, earning a notably better response than he got earlier that day in trying it out for an audience of 11 stressed-out journalists named Ben. If you’ve wanted to hear Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s Master Shake say “Gianni...Infante,” here you go:
But the full experience of Wet Trump arrived immediately after that, when the topic turned, for reasons only Trump can truly know, to American football. There is a script scrolling and mostly stalling on the teleprompters at the sides of the stage at these events, but Trump is not there to read it. You can do that shit in the Rose Garden. Wet Trump was in North Carolina to stretch out, which over the stretch of one thrilling minute meant going from the World Cup to Robert Kraft to Tom Brady to Bill Belichick to curing childhood cancer and AIDS in the next ten years. This was the real stuff, slick and shiny and lit up with the weird delight available only to someone who is convinced he just can’t miss.
There’s not really a news takeaway here, or not any more than there was when, on Tuesday, Trump mentioned a White House staffer named John Holifield and then digressed to talk about how Evander Holyfield, who is his friend, was also a very tough fighter. Trump doesn’t really make news in the conventional ways that presidents have, because he doesn’t really do things. Things happen passively—truly horrible things, things that have already left deep and greasy stains on the nation—but less because of anything Trump himself does than because our state has been built to oversee and prosecute various normal horrors even while humming along in energy-saver mode. Trump himself mostly just goes on TV, and watches it.
So that’s what there is to report. Trump got himself shiny in North Carolina before a crowd that wanted nothing more than to see him do and say the things he always says and does. He got wound up and then he wound on down. He seemed excited about the World Cup, which is the biggest event and which we can now report exclusively “we’re going to have a great relationship with” but he will forget all that soon if he hasn’t already. Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick—those are some successful people he knows, geniuses all in their ways, and so he mentioned them. Cancer and AIDS—those are some things that many people don’t like, and we’re going to be looking into getting rid of them and actually getting rid of them very soon. Definitely, actually. That work starts tomorrow.