Trump’s State of the Union speech tonight was a winner. By that I mean, it should remind everyone, especially Democrats, that he could very well be on his way to winning another four years.
He boasted of fighting ISIS and putting not one but two prolific terrorist leaders in the ground.
Democrats don’t want to believe it, but all of that probably sounds more reasonable and indeed mainstream than a number of the policies most of the Democrats for president are running on, like free health care for undocumented immigrants, abolishing private health insurance, banning guns and unrestricted abortion rights. If you took Trump out of the House tonight, that speech would probably even appeal to many Democratic and independent voters.
Trump, of course, is both his best pitchman as well as his own worst enemy. Democrats are betting that his lies, his insults and his impeachment will overshadow these winning messages. I wish they mattered as much as they think they do. But I’m willing to bet that if Democrats underestimate the potency of these promises in favor of unpopular, far-left policies, he’ll get four more years.
Errol Louis: Behind the Reaganesque pose, the same old petty Trump
It was a masterful performance — but behind the sunny smile was the same old Trump: petty, angry, vindictive and deceptive. He refused to shake the hand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a snub she returned in kind by ostentatiously ripping up her copy of the President’s speech at the conclusion of the address, in full view of the cameras.
And while the President never mentioned the fact of his impeachment or that he is on trial in the Senate, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, delivering the Democratic response, pointedly brought the subject up. “As we witness the impeachment process in Washington, there are some things each of us — no matter our party — should demand,” she said. “The truth matters. Facts matter. And no one should be above the law.”
We should expect more of this dynamic as the campaign season heats up. Trump is trying to make the case that great things lie ahead, and that only he can deliver them. Democrats will be there saying “not so fast.”
Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.
Julian Zelizer: Democrats are going to need a powerful message to counter Trump
In 2020, Democrats are going to need a stronger and more forceful message in response to President Trump’s economic claims.
They need to devise a powerful message that provides Americans with an accurate origin story of the boom, and they also need to make a more convincing case about what only they can deliver in the future.
Otherwise, they will keep allowing Trump one of his most potent talking points going into November 2020.
Alice Stewart: Trump’s guests put faces to his politics
Trump touted his plans for expanding the child tax credit, lowering prescription drug prices and improving infrastructure. However, this speech will be remembered for far more than policy proposals: what will stick most in memory are the people mentioned in the House chamber. The White House invited a number of guests who put a face on the policies important to this administration: national security, illegal immigration and the Space Force.
It was effective.
Sergeant First Class Townsend Williams was re-united with his family after being deployed in Afghanistan for several months. With tears in his eyes, Jody, the brother of Rocky Jones, who was killed by an undocumented immigrant, was introduced. And one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, Brig. Gen. Charles McGee, was joined by his 13-year-old great-grandson Iain Lanphier to honor past service and promote a potential future Space Force program member.
Personal stories sway sentiment much more than talking points. The SOTU was a successful first step on the way to the general election.
Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator, resident fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy Institute of Politics and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President.
Charlie Dent: The State of the Union was an undignified spectacle
In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump made an effective case for his policies that have contributed to a strong, robust economy, while at the same time throwing out plenty of red meat to his base on immigration, socialism, abortion, sanctuary cities, the Second Amendment and other issues.
What struck me most of all, however, was the smallness and pettiness of the evening, starting with Trump ignoring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s outstretched hand and ending with her tearing up the President’s speech. Bad form on both counts.
The lines meant to incite never-ending applause and cheers from Republicans — and consequentially jeers from Democrats — added nothing of value to the spectacle. The inappropriateness of Republicans chanting “four more years” and Democrats scoffing and booing detracted significantly from what should be a dignified proceeding attended by the nation’s highest officials from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the most high ranking uniformed members of the armed services and other distinguished guests.
The whole event felt more like a political rally than a sober assessment of the State of the Union, or more aptly, disunion. Yes, Trump stuck to the script and presented his case well. There were heart-warming moments and heroics in the stories of Americans seated in the gallery. Still, it feels like America deserves better.
Setting aside one’s feelings for or against Rush Limbaugh as he battles with lung cancer, was it really necessary to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the address? Of course not. The act was intended to be divisive and incendiary. Can you imagine if former President Barack Obama had done the same thing for Rachel Maddow or George Soros? The lid would have blown off the Capitol.
There once was a time when presidents simply sent their addresses on paper to Congress — no speech or theatrics necessary. Maybe the State of the Union address has outlived its usefulness just like the Iowa caucuses.
The next president might just want to mail it in.
Republican Charlie Dent is a former US congressman from Pennsylvania who served as chairman of the House Ethics Committee from 2015 until 2016 and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies from 2015 until 2018. He is a CNN political commentator.
Raul Reyes: On immigration, Trump puts on a cynical show
On Tuesday night, instead of the 2020 State of the Union, President Donald Trump presented an extended partisan rally. This spectacle included handing out an “opportunity scholarship” to an African-American child, presenting the Medal of Freedom to a divisive radio host and surprising a military wife with the appearance of her husband. These were calculated stunts worthy of reality television — not befitting the President’s annual address to the nation.
The tone of the evening was set right from the beginning, when the President refused to shake the extended hand of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. So much for setting politics aside and affirming unity.
Over the next roughly 90 minutes, Trump seemingly could not call attention to his accomplishments without resorting to putting down past administrations or bashing Democrats. This had the unintended effect of making the Commander-in-Chief look boastful, petty and small.
On border security and immigration, Trump was entirely predictable. He highlighted his administration’s action on immigration, while failing to mention that his policies have been largely carried out through executive orders and regulations, thus bypassing Congress.
He bragged about building his border wall, without mentioning that Mexico is certainly not paying for it. He recited gruesome stories of crimes by undocumented migrants, playing to his xenophobic base. Decrying so-called sanctuary cities, Trump declared, “the United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans.”
Scott Jennings: Trump grabs the optimism high ground from sulking Democrats
Donald Trump is having the best week of his presidency, and it’s only half over.
He was smart to focus on the economic successes happening under his administration during his State of the Union; if he is reelected, it will be because he’s done a good job with it and Democrats are offering plans that make it seem like we are living in a new Great Depression instead of an era of extreme prosperity and opportunity. Trump’s living in — and taking advantage of — reality and the Democrats just aren’t.
Trump was also smart to leave impeachment alone, but I can’t blame him for shunning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s handshake to start the speech. She’s trying to throw him out of office on an impeachment that is now underwater with many Americans, as the aforementioned polling indicates. Trump has come out of impeachment in the strongest position of his presidency, thanks to Democratic overreach and focus on things that just don’t matter to average Americans.
Trump has grabbed the optimism high ground from a Democratic party that apparently can’t see past its own rage over Trump’s presidency, which, for most Americans, is turning out pretty well. Presidential elections are usually about the future, and Trump projected a hopeful vision versus a gloomy opposition.
Frida Ghitis: Insults to Pelosi — and the American people
But there were the medals, the family reunions and the overall rhetorical weirdness that has become par for the Trumpian course.
The President managed to resist the temptation to lash out against Democrats during his State of the Union. However, he couldn’t help insulting the American people with a barrage of lies, exaggerations, misrepresentations and claims of personal credit for the accomplishments of others. After all, that is the stock-in-trade of the marketing maven that is Trump.
He proclaimed that, “The state of our union is stronger than ever before.” In fact, America is more divided than it has been in living memory. That’s a dangerous weakness for any country.
Trump added drama with his guests in the audience. In an unprecedented move, he had the First Lady give the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh in the middle of his speech. It’s terribly sad that Limbaugh has advanced cancer, but it’s hard to justify granting the nation’s highest civilian honor to a man who has done so much to inflame divisions among Americans.
Having Guaido there helped Trump talk about the evils of socialism, a Trump 2020 dig at Democrats, whose presidential candidate Trump will paint as a Venezuela-style socialist. “Socialism destroys nations, but always remember, freedom unifies the soul,” the President nonsensically mused.
Unifying was the opposite of the purpose of a speech that aimed to drum up votes. And though we were spared the insults, we were subjected to crass marketing, to division and to damnable lies.
Aaron David Miller: The elephant in the room
I had three takeaways from President Donald Trump’s speech. First, the President provided a pretty conventional laundry list of accomplishments. These were tied together by a central theme: here’s what I’ve done for you lately. The key, of course, is how many of Trump’s myriad claims are tethered to fact and reality. My heart goes out to the fact checkers this evening who may well be working into the wee hours of the morning to discern just that.
Second, it was a speech for Trump’s base. There was enough red meat in this speech on guns, religious liberty, sanctuary cities and deregulation to keep every zoo in America supplied for a year. There was little effort on the President’s part to reach across the aisle, let alone to even shake the hand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had her own partisan moment when she tore up his remarks at the close of his speech.
Third, the President’s demeanor was shaped by the elephant in the room — his resentment and bitterness of being only the third president in American history to be impeached. Trump never mentioned the “I” word directly, of course. But with some exceptions, the President’s demeanor — defiant, arrogant, seemingly angry and preternaturally boastful — seemed clearly tied to his frustration with an impeachment process that has dragged out for several months.
Sarah Isgur: Trump has redefined the meaning of Republican
President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech — and his party’s praise of it — highlighted the tectonic party realignment underway, an alignment driven almost entirely by the President himself. While Trump mentioned some familiar Republican issues, like efforts to curb abortion and undocumented immigration, there were also some noticeable absences.
Limited government and spending were once the hallmarks of any Republican platform, but they were not even given a passing nod tonight. Tax cuts and the regulatory state were mentioned only in the past tense. And other policies previously associated with Democrats, though more limited in scope in Trump’s version, were highlighted — like his calling on Congress to pass a nationwide paid family leave law and implement large-scale criminal justice reform.
Largely, these policy shifts have gone without much notice. But, make no mistake, as the Trump presidency has busted through so many norms, it has redefined what a Republican is — and in less than three years’ time. And in 2024, Republican presidential candidates will have to wrestle with the very basic question of what it means to be a Republican.
Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She is a staff writer at The Dispatch and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. She previously worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and graduated from Harvard Law School.
Peter Bergen: Trump’s confused message on military
In his State of the Union speech President Donald Trump reveled in his increased confidence in his own military judgments, proudly declaiming that in October he had ordered the operation in which the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had died. Then a month ago Trump also ordered the targeted killing of the de facto leader of Iran’s military forces, Qasem Soleimani.
But there was something of a paradox in Trump’s speech on Tuesday: At the same time that he lauded those operations, he also said that he was winding down the post-9/11 wars in the greater Middle East, for instance, in Afghanistan where he said he was planning to bring American troops home and to end America’s longest war.
A graphic illustration of this impulse was Trump’s reveal—worthy of the best kind of reality TV show— when Sgt. First Class Townsend Williams, who had just returned from Afghanistan on his fourth deployment to the greater Middle East, was reunited in the gallery of the House chamber with his wife, Amy, and their two young children, to their great surprise and joy.
But in his speech he conflated America’s seemingly endless wars in the Middle East with what should be better explained to the American people as a necessary “persistent presence” in countries where US national security interests remain at stake.
After all, simply pulling all US troops out of Afghanistan runs the real risk that much of the country would be taken over by the Taliban, who could then play host to a variety of jihadist terrorist groups.
Preventing this does not require a large American military footprint, but it does require a small but steady presence of predominantly US Special Forces for many years into the future to advise and assist the Afghan military and perform counterterrorism missions where necessary
Indeed, it was this such military presence in Syria and Iraq that enabled American forces to “find, fix and finish” both Baghdadi and Soleimani.
Simply leaving the greater Middle East to its own devices as Trump often suggests as his end goal is not a recipe for regional stability, nor indeed global stability, as we saw with pullout of all American forces from Iraq in 2011 and the subsequent rise of ISIS there.
Nayyera Haq: Trump’s appeal to racist history
It was no accident that President Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to one of America’s most divisive voices, Rush Limbaugh, in the same State of the Union speech where he referenced “America’s manifest destiny.”
It’s a view of the American story that denies the current trajectory of the American population, which is set to be majority minority in the next 20 years. The State of the Union proved once again that Trump is a President who will serve to make America great (again)—but only for the select few.
Nayyera Haq is a host on SiriusXM and former White House Senior Director in the Obama administration.
Tara Setmayer: Trump’s empty rhetoric
Donald Trump’s entire political existence, on the other hand, both as a candidate and now as President, has been fueled by appealing to voters’ fears instead of civic virtue. Trump’s State of the Union Tuesday was no different.
Delivered under the shadow of impeachment but on the verge of a Senate acquittal, Trump chose to venture down the path of division once again. Amid his highly partisan rhetoric on a range of issues, Trump substituted a reality-show spectacle for what is usually the most impactful portion of the State of the Union: the introduction of honored guests in the First Lady’s box. As touching as each story was, there was an inescapable sense of pandering to certain voting blocs — Pennsylvania and Florida on issues of school choice and criminal justice reform for minorities, Latinos on both Cuba and Venezuela policy — that couldn’t be ignored.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats will be criticized for not clapping during moments that seemed naturally worthy of applause. But I understand their reticence. Trump’s gestures of goodwill came across as contrived, made-for-TV political choreography and empty rhetoric. He’s turned the State of our Union into a reality-show preview of what’s to come during this election cycle. It’s certainly a far cry from most presidents’, including Kennedy’s, hopeful vision for America.