Was Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first State of the Union speech suc­cess­ful?

Trump hit a grand slam and touched all bases

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - PERSPECTIVE - Mer­rill Matthews

DAL­LAS — By vir­tu­ally any tra­di­tional mea­sure — as well as a few non­tra­di­tional mea­sures — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first State of the Union (SOTU) ad­dress was a great suc­cess. Let us count the ways.

The polls: A CBS poll re­leased shortly af­ter the speech re­ported that 75 per­cent of those watch­ing ap­proved of it, and 80 per­cent said the pres­i­dent was try­ing to unite the coun­try. Im­por­tantly, two-thirds said the speech made them feel proud.

In a Politico/Morn­ing Con­sult poll, 35 per­cent of those watch­ing gave the pres­i­dent an “A” for his speech and 25 per­cent gave him a “B.” Only 26 per­cent gave him ei­ther a “D” or “F.”

Those num­bers would be good for any presi-

dent’s State of the Union ad­dress. But given Trump’s usu­ally low ap­proval rat­ings, that’s a very pos­i­tive re­sponse.

The au­di­ence: The Nielsen Com­pany re­ported that 45.6 mil­lion peo­ple watched the State of the Union mes­sage on TV. That was the sixth largest SOTU au­di­ence, a solid turnout, though not a record.

Of course, Nielsen’s num­bers only re­flected ca­ble and broad­cast TV net­works. How­ever, more and more peo­ple are by­pass­ing TV and view­ing such events on­line, so to­tal view­er­ship likely was much larger than the of­fi­cial num­ber.

The tone: Trump ap­peared pres­i­den­tial in his de­meanor, gra­cious to the op­po­si­tion — sup­port­ing sev­eral pol­icy ini­tia­tives that Democrats want — and he stayed on mes­sage. All three tasks can be chal­leng­ing for this pres­i­dent. So when he achieves them, it’s a yu­uge suc­cess.

Iron­i­cally, Trump’s pres­i­den­tial stature dur­ing the speech was mag­ni­fied, rather than di­min­ished, by the Democrats’ sour faces. It’s com­mon for the op­po­si­tion party to re­main in their seats more and ap­plaud less than the pres­i­dent’s party. But in this case, Democrats looked bit­ter and de­jected — even when the pres­i­dent high­lighted the achieve­ment of widely shared goals such as low black and His­panic un­em­ploy­ment rates.

The catchy phrases: State of the Union ad­dresses sel­dom rise to the level of high ora­tory. The speeches are more no­table for a few catchy phrases that stick in peo­ple’s minds, and Trump’s was no ex­cep­tion.

One of Trump’s best was the com­ment that “Amer­i­cans are dream­ers, too,” which took a po­tent po­lit­i­cal is­sue — il­le­gal aliens brought to the U.S. as chil­dren, re­ferred to as “Dream­ers” — and turned the no­tion on its head, mak­ing it ap­ply to Amer­i­can cit­i­zens who also dream of achiev­ing their goals

The hu­man con­nec­tion: Since Ronald Rea­gan’s 1982 ad­dress, SOTU speeches have in­creas­ingly put a hu­man face on po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy is­sues.

Trump drew at­ten­tion to sev­eral peo­ple sit­ting in the gallery, in­clud­ing a young man who put flags on veter­ans’ graves, two fam­i­lies whose daugh­ters were killed by gang mem­bers and a North Korean who es­caped to free­dom.

Ev­ery pres­i­dent in­cor­po­rates the prac­tice in their SOTU ad­dress th­ese days, but none more ef­fec­tively than Trump.

The wins: With 45 mil­lion-plus peo­ple watch­ing, State of the Union ad­dresses pro­vide a plat­form for a pres­i­dent to tout his suc­cesses. Trump had a num­ber of them, es­pe­cially with re­spect to the econ­omy, and he wasn’t bash­ful about shar­ing them.

But the suc­cesses have to be ex­pe­ri­enced to be ef­fec­tive. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama used to boast about eco­nomic re­cov­ery and the ben­e­fits of his health care law, but those claims just didn’t ring true for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

By con­trast, Trump’s claim of a surg­ing econ­omy is re­flected in news head­lines and grow­ing pub­lic op­ti­mism — and com­pletely be­liev­able.

The State of the Union has be­come a po­lit­i­cal show­case, where Amer­i­cans who sel­dom pay much at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics can hear the pres­i­dent make the best case he — and even­tu­ally she — can make for the coun­try and his poli­cies.

If the pub­lic comes away from that ad­dress in­formed, en­cour­aged and proud, it was a suc­cess­ful speech. The polls show Don­ald Trump did ex­actly that.

Mer­rill Matthews is a res­i­dent scholar with the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy In­no­va­tion.


Pres­i­dent Trump mo­tions dur­ing the State of the Union Ad­dress.

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