April 24, 2018 is a day that could define the Trump presidency. President and Mrs. Trump will host President and Mrs. Emmanuel Macron of France for their first State Dinner at the White House. The way a president entertains says a great deal about his administration; a carefully planned event such as this, can build and strengthen diplomatic friendships, as well as bestow long-lasting authenticity upon a President’s legacy. Though many in the “chattering class” will find things to criticize regarding the State Dinner, it is in fact shaping up to be another successful social event for President and Mrs. Trump.
No one should be surprised that the Trumps have chosen to honor French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron. Given the warm reception they received in Paris during the Bastille Day events, returning the gesture makes perfect sense. Historically, Presidents selected their first State Dinner to recognize one of their closest allies. For instance, President Ronald Reagan selected the United Kingdom, and his decades long relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. President George H.W. Bush chose similarly for his first State Dinner honorees in welcoming President and First Lady Mubarak of the Arab Republic of Egypt, to be his guests.
While some criticize what they expect to be an intimate affair of merely 150 guests, these more intimate dinners were the ones of choice by many successful commanders in chief. President and Mrs. Reagan held regular State Dinners, nearly one a month, yet none of these exceeded the size of the State Dining Room, capable of holding 120 guests. Additionally, President and Mrs. Kennedy rarely exceeded the amount of guests that could be held on the State Floor of the Executive Mansion. Yes, it was customary during both the Clinton and Obama Administrations to tent the South Lawn nearly doubling the size of their dinners, (the Clinton Administration even recommended the Bush Administration find a permanent structure to accommodate large venues on the South lawn), but, this was never the historic norm. Smaller, more exclusive events tend to be cherished and more appreciated, sending the message that president and first lady thought so much of you to be one of 120 people in America to honor this visiting head of state. Besides, you could sit in the finest, most expensive tent on the South Lawn, but it is always much more elegant to dine by candlelight surrounded by history inside the White House. Furthermore, who would want to use the bathroom in portable, outdoor toilets?
There is no doubt all eyes will be on First Lady Melania Trump at her first State Dinner. Looking at the past White House events Mrs. Trump has planned, it is obvious Mrs. Trump has a high regard for and deliberate homage to history. Her first Christmas at the White House was framed by a theme “Time-Honored Traditions”, paying homage to the leaders that came before the president and herself. One of her first White House seated dinner was in honor of the White House Historical Association, which featured special White House artifacts dating back to President Monroe. The 140th Easter Egg Roll might be our greatest insight to what the Trump’s first seated State Dinner will entail. It was smaller in size, meticulously planned with new features, activities, and visual elements, along with the traditional military bands, giving guests a more enjoyable and fulfilled experience in the historic grounds.
First Lady Laura Bush may have illustrated the many preparations of a State Dinner best in an account to Vicente Fox. Mrs. Bush shared with Fox the details of planning her first state dinner: “…I was not nervous before my own wedding…A state dinner is far more intricate, an elaborate display of hundreds of moving parts, from guest lists to menus, which require an advance tasting, to table seatings, arrival protocols, and choices of linens, flowers, china, and silver, even the champagnes and wines… If the four-hour evening is flawless, it is only because of the hundreds of hours that have been invested beforehand. No detail is too small…” Mrs. Trump has the right East Wing team in place with politico Lindsay Reynolds as her chief of staff and well-established D.C. event planning executive Rickie Niceta as social secretary. While they will all advise Mrs. Trump, it will ultimately be up to her to make the all the final selections.
Mrs. Trump has hosted elegant affairs in New York, Florida and now Washington D.C. with the president. I predict the Trumps’ first State Arrival Ceremony and State Dinner will truly be a meaningful event for the Macrons, as even the smallest details are coming from Mrs. Trump’s appreciation for American History and respect for her French guests. The Trump mystique has arrived and it will be gilded with all the trappings, pomp and circumstance of a brand the world has come to know as the highest quality and the best. Not since Jackie Kennedy will we have a First Lady able to speak fluently to her guests creating that timeless “Melania Trump je ne sais quoi” that will help the president create deeper bonds, and closer diplomatic ties with our French neighbors.
Jennifer Boswell Pickens is a White House East Wing historian with an expertise in White House traditions, social events and First Ladies. She is a highly sought-after speaker, and author of two books, Christmas at the White House and Pets at the White House. Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @JenniferPickens.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.