How do you dress to declare a false victory? How do you convey the image of coming out of the top when the top itself is shrouded in clouds and fog?
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, when news outlets warned it could be days before election results became known, President Donald J. Trump stepped onto a makeshift stage in the East Room of the White House for his moment in the spotlight and announced Basically Saw it looked to him as if they had won and they didn’t understand why the vote count was still going on. He did this by dismantling some of his usual sets and turning what might have been a crowning extravaganza into what looked much more like a war room.
Against the now required army of American flags – not even a full row, but two – he arrived with his wife Melania accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen.
They were preceded by the flotilla of Trump children who took their seats in front of the audience. Almost all of them went dark: Ivanka wore a black double-breasted suit; Kimberly Guilfoyle, black capris and a top; Lara Trump, a dark blue pants suit. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, wore a black dress. The only punctuation marks were Tiffany, who wore a Republican red pant suit, and Don Jr., who was light blue to match the flags.
The first lady, who had cast her vote in a sleeveless silk dress with a Gucci chain pattern in Palm Beach the previous Tuesday, had also put on her fashionable safety blanket: a black no-nonsense pantsuit from Dolce & Gabbana with a crisp white shirt (the same Look she wore for her official portrait). Mrs. Pence also wore black. The President wore his usual dark suit. The vice president too. Mr. Trump’s tie was blue; Mr. Pence is red.
Overall, the image on the screen was as usual. It was amazing to remember the asymmetrical ruffled white jumpsuit that Mrs. Trump had worn four years ago that night and the little blue sky dresses Ivanka and Tiffany had chosen when they came after his surprise victory took their places by their father’s side.
It had been a scene of somewhat shocked brightness and a mood that was not entirely coordinated. This was more like a bunker with gold chandeliers and stars and stripes. It was given the implicit suggestion: We’re not going anywhere. We crouch down and dig in. If necessary, take this matter to the Supreme Court.
Black is an intricate political color, with its associations of elitism and funerals, doom and threat. It tends to be avoided by family members whose job it is to show the softer, human side of a candidate or leader. to literally surround him (or her) in a hazy glow. But the creeping darkness reflected the mood of the country and President Trump’s own dark allegations: election fraud and election theft.
It’s a battle, no question about it. Neither side denies this. On Monday night, at their last rally in Philadelphia, Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s runmate, wore a heavy steel-colored military overcoat for protection from the elements, though she admonished voters with a big smile. (It was from MaxMara, the brand that made Nancy Pelosi’s famous orange flame-throwing coat, which may or may not have been a coincidence.) But Jill Biden was with her husband when he approached his followers just after midnight on Wednesday morning – outdoors , against a mere scattering of flags, just a gesture of the idea of props – wore a pink swing coat: a bright spot in the dark.
Also a face mask that has become a symbol of the distinction between the two sides. Mr. Biden himself, who smiled and exuded certainty and believed that everything would be fine, didn’t bother with a coat at all, even though they were outside.
It’s an old presidential tradition that goes back to Eisenhower, who took off his coat when he was inaugurated for the second time in order to face the world unprotected (at least from wool). Kennedy did the same as almost every president after him until Obama. It’s a little visual feat, a nod to old traditions and stereotypes of masculinity and strength, and a certain inner heat. This guy doesn’t need a coat: he makes his own warmth.
Surely Mr Biden tried. It remains to be seen whether it will catch fire when the last votes are counted or whether the cold water of this divided country will pour over it.