Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday reminded America about his uncanny sense of comedic timing when he delivered a string of zingers as he and former first lady Michelle Obama made their triumphant return to the White House for the unveiling of their official portraits.
But to kick off his address, the 44th president made an off-color reference that may or may have not been an indirect jab at his controversial successor, Donald Trump.
From knocking former White House staffers for not naming their children after him and offering a wisecrack about his wife’s beauty to mocking his own “tan suit” non-controversy, the first Black president of the United States showed that no target was safe during what transitioned from comedic relief to an inspiring speech about the prospects of America’s future.
After President Joe Biden introduced the former first couple and invited them to the stage to unveil their portraits by artists Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, respectively, there was one moment of levity in particular that stood out. That was when Obama began his address by remarking on how good it felt to return to the White House.
“It is good to be back,” Obama said smiling before setting up an apparent punchline: “We’ll try not to tear up the place.”
The audience erupted with laughter at eight words that on the surface seemed innocent enough. But a deeper look suggests Obama could have very well been talking about Trump with a brilliant double entendre that is at once easily deniable and perfectly explainable.
Rumblings on social media showed people suspected the same and wondered if that was a dig at the recent raid on Trump’s residence at his Mar A Lago resort in Florida, where federal agents conducted a raid that reportedly left the premises in shambles. The operation to retrieve classified documents that Trump illegally removed from the White House particularly rendered Melania Trump’s closet a “mess,” according to reports fueled by Trump himself.
However, Obama also could have been making a reference to the Jan. 6 Committee testimony of star witness Cassidy Hutchinson — a former aide to Mark Meadows, Trump’s White House chief of staff — who claimed under oath that she witnessed Trump throw a tantrum — and food.
She specifically testified going to the White House dining room after hearing a loud noise only to find a “valet” cleaning up a “mess” on the wall that came from food. Notably, Hutchinson referred to “ketchup” which she said was smeared on the wall. On the floor was a broken porcelain plate, Hutchinson said.
“The valet had articulated that the president was extremely angry at the attorney general’s AP interview, and had thrown his lunch against the wall,” Hutchinson testified in June.
Could be the multi-tiered “mess” Obama joked he wouldn’t make while at the White House.
It’s unlikely Obama was talking about the Capitol insurrection, which resulted in multiple deaths from a violent, racist mob incited by Trump. That, of course, is no laughing matter.
Maybe Obama’s line wasn’t even about Trump and was simply some kind of inside joke? But those prospects don’t seem likely when considering Obama was reading from remarks he probably prepared and approved while aware the event would be televised nationally.
However, the possibility that Obama could be taking a shot at Trump isn’t a stretch of the imagination by any means. In fact, he has more than a decade of experience doing so. Beginning with his legendary speech at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner, Obama’s roasting came as Trump was in the audience, his orange face turning red with a wry smile belying what was later described as “fury.”
Whatever the case was, Obama’s speech promoted his wife to acknowledge his “spicy remarks.”
But then Michelle Obama went on to have her own words that were possibly about Trump with commentary about the tradition of peaceful transfers of presidential power.
“I do recognize why moments like these are important,” she said about unveiling the portraits. “Why all of this is absolutely necessary. Traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these positions but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy.”
She punctuated that statement with: “We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power.”