At the last of his whirlwind trio of inaugural ball appearances Friday, President Trump addressed a room full of uniformed military and, via video, soldiers fighting in Afghanistan with a distilled version of the message he’d been delivering for the better part of the past two years: “Keep fighting. We're going to win.”
By the time he took the stage at the Salute to the Armed Services Ball, Trump had been sworn in as president, paraded around Washington, D.C., signed his first executive order and approved the commissions of his first two Cabinet officials – in less than 12 hours. Before the evening was through, he would dance with a U.S. Navy Petty Officer and join Vice President Mike Pence in slicing a towering cake with an equally imposing sword.
“I will tell you, I’m with you all the way,” Trump said to the troops in Afghanistan. “You have somebody that is going to be right alongside of you.”
While he exhibited typical Trump bravado in celebratory remarks at the two previous balls – The Liberty Ball and The Freedom Ball – Trump’s tone was slightly different for his final crowd, the members of which he is now officially the Commander-in-Chief.
“You are special people, you are great, great people,” Trump said. “I have your back.”
Speaking about the hard-fought campaign, Trump said: “I did a good job as a messenger. But I am your messenger, just remember that.”
One of Trump’s biggest applause lines of the evening was his announcement that Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis had been confirmed and sworn in as Secretary of Defense and Gen. John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security.
“We’ve been pushed around by a lot of different people, lots of bad things are happening,” Trump said. “But I think you’re going to see a big improvement, really.”
First Lady Melania Trump also spoke for the only time on Friday evening, thanking the troops for their service and saying she was “honored” to be First Lady. She ended with a line that dovetailed perfectly with her husband’s fiery rhetoric.
“We will fight. We will win. And we will make America great again,” she said.
At the earlier Freedom Ball, Trump’s biggest crowd pleaser was a voice poll on whether he should keep tweeting now that he’s president. Those in attendance roared with approval.
“You know, the enemies keep saying, ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’” Trump said, speaking of members of the media. “It’s a way of bypassing the dishonest media, right?”
Trump also added a new wrinkle to his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve added since I’ve got to know some of the people in this country – ‘greater than ever before,’” he said. “It will happen.”
The president and First Lady danced twice to cover versions of “My Way” and, at the Armed Services Ball, to a cover rendition of “I Will Always Love You.”
But the moments of levity and ease were few and far between.
“We are not playing games,” Trump said at The Liberty Ball. “The work begins.”