What We Learned From Trump’s State of the Union

President doesn’t take the unifying route, promising a rough ride ahead

President Donald Trump takes a selfie with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in the House chamber after his State of the Union address on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump takes a selfie with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in the House chamber after his State of the Union address on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 31, 2018 at 7:26am

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday was a victory lap on his economic program, but not the unifying speech that his aides had promised ahead of time, political analysts said.

Some saw it as Trump trying to reassure his base and said his style in delivering it was more optimistic, though it was short on specific policy points.

Democrats said moves like conflating the Dreamers with violent MS-13 gangs doesn’t give them much hope about working with Trump to solve the immigrants’ dilemma.

Trump’s address comes ahead of the midterm elections, when multiple incumbent Republicans in tight House districts are retiring, putting Republicans’ control of both chambers of Congress in jeopardy. 

Here’s how they thought Trump’s speech played and how it might affect the political landscape in the coming months:

Michael Caputo, a former Trump and George H.W. Bush campaign adviser:

This was a powerful and remarkably conservative State of the Union speech, with  President Trump taking a rightful victory lap for the good news of his economic program. I was struck by the way he wove his guests into the story he told, from the very first page to the last moments of the speech. I don’t think the President hit the high notes Democrats wanted to hear tonight, and their dour reception proved he’s in for a fight again this year.

Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster based in Wisconsin who recently helped conduct polling for Doug Jones’ successful Senate campaign in Alabama:

It is paradoxical but damaging to Donald Trump that the voters that should be most supportive of his economic policies and happy about the economy’s performance the past year are the very ones who have moved most strongly against him. College-educated suburbanites not just outside of Milwaukee, Detroit, or Philadelphia but also  in Wisconsin’s Senate District 10 (Twin Cities suburbs) and near Pittsburgh or Lansing have tired of everything Trump. His governing style and personal character, combined with a growing sense of dysfunction about Washington and our political system, have driven these voters away. Can this speech and its economic feel good passages begin to square his circle of chaos? I’m doubtful. Will these voters believe Trump as he attempts to reach across the aisle? Will it be more than a rhetorical outreach? His and their history says no to both questions.

Maslin later followed up, saying Trump’s immigration rhetoric may not resonate in Midwestern states like Wisconsin. “‘Catch and release’ applies to bass fishing, not people trying to jump the border from Mexico,” he said. “So while there might be initial support for Trump’s package, it is not the most vital concern in the region.”

Watch: The Story of Statuary Hall on SOTU Night

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Michael Steel, former Jeb Bush campaign adviser and press secretary to former House Speaker John A. Boehner:

President Trump didn’t move the needle on policy, but his sunnier and more optimistic tone was a welcome change. Now, we’ll see if he can and will stick with it — and what it changes substantively.

Lis Smith, former Obama campaign staffer and deputy manager for Martin O’Malley’s campaign.

The state of Donald Trump’s union is very confusing. He steadfastly refuses to articulate a coherent world view or any consistent principles. Take immigration- in one breath, he praised the virtue of DREAMers. In the next, he associated them with MS-13 gang members. Anyone hoping for clarity or a path forward for a deal on DACA better buckle in, because it’s going to be long and wild ride.

Bob Kish, Ohio-based Republican strategist:

Very conventional speech for an unconventional president. Thought he was inclusive until he waded into immigration & mentioning Obamacare…but thought he did a decent, logical job of selling immigration reform to average Americans. Thought he showed Presidential demeanor. Trump did a fairly good job.  Now he just has to stay off Twitter. Trump was prouder than a high school mom with a bumper sticker on the minivan bragging about her honor roll student. His speech was focused on reassuring his base and less about extending olive branch to Democrats on immigration reform. He stuck it to Democrats by praising flag and [awkwardly] forcing them stand when he was really talking about NFL anthem protests.