It was hard for the mainstream media to describe President Trump’s State of the Union speech as anything but a success.
The networks stuck to familiar themes for the president – immigration, the economy, national defense. Reports had their share of special guests and heart-tugging stories, including a man who escaped North Korea on crutches and worked his way to Southeast Asia and from there to freedom. From there, the couple who adopted a baby from a heroin-addicted mother in Albuquerque.
The speech also polled well. A CBS instant poll out within two hours of the end of the speech found 75 percent of viewers liked it, to 25 who didn’t. A CNN poll found 48 percent were strongly impressed and another 22 percent somewhat impressed with the speech.
But they still found faults.
“For the hour and 20 minutes during which he spoke, Trump commanded the nation’s focus with a review of successes and an outline of his second-year priorities,” wrote Dan Balz at the Washington Post. “And yet, the record of the past year shows that the president has chosen to stir controversy and stoke existing partisanship rather than do the harder work of bringing the country together.”
The partisanship on Capitol Hill, the seemingly weekly introduction of articles of impeachment, the violent and vicious protests, the five Democrats who refused even to attend the speech – all Trump’s fault.
“On the floor of the House, elected officials sat opposite one another across the center aisle, angrily divided over the pending release of a memo from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that they say points to FBI misconduct in the Russia investigation. The partisan argument underscored anew the degree to which Trump’s presidency is clouded by his actions and often shaped by Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.”
The memo Democrats are working so desperately to keep out of the public eye suggests Trump’s presidency, as well as the Mueller investigation, have been clouded by things other than his actions. And Trump speaking out on what he perceives as the unfairness of the investigation – as opposed to enduring what he considers a witch hunt – that’s not good, either.
And although the speech was well-received, don’t expect to amount to anything in the way of a permanent bounce, Balz wrote.
“When Trump campaigned for the White House, he survived events that would have caused substantial damage to most other politicians. But if nothing bad stuck to him during the campaign, nothing good seems to stick long either. He has seen few political dividends for the positive developments that have occurred on his watch.”
This is all because he refuses to roll over and let the FBI and Justice Department drive him from office. Balz says there are many reasons why Trump can’t cash in on even his political victories – although his polling and that of congressional Republicans have done nothing but creep up after tax reform passed.
But the main one was this: “Since he last spoke to Congress,” Balz wrote, “Trump has fired an FBI director (James B. Comey), openly criticized his attorney general and onetime political ally (Jeff Sessions, repeatedly vilified a deputy FBI director (Andrew McCabe, who on Monday suddenly resigned his position ahead of schedule) and, as was reported last week, wanted to fire Mueller last summer, only to be blocked when White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign. Now he appears to be at odds with the Justice Department, which has warned against releasing the intelligence committee’s partisan memo.”
Sessions is still attorney general and still Trump’s ally. McCabe seems to have earned the vilification he received, and the Justice Department wants to memo kept quiet because it reflects poorly on the DOJ. And how does Balz know it is partisan? He has not seen it.
The story, Balz said, is not that Trump delivered a great State of the Union speech. It’s what happens in the coming months when the speech gives way to other challenges. It depends on whether Trump has a plan for North Korea, whether he can swing a deal on immigration and infrastructure and whether he will let the Mueller investigation run its course.
No, it was about the speech. And it was a memorably good speech.