Reaction to President Trump’s first State of the Union speech followed the familiar choose-your-own-partisan-narrative script that’s dominated political life since the 2016 election.
Republican members of Congress frequently offered safe, predictable praise particularly around economic policy. Said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: “We’re coming out of this economic funk that we were in throughout the Obama years and the president was right to talk about it and to take some credit for the direction America is heading in.”
Trump’s allies in the conservative media went even further with their praise, with Fox News host Sean Hannity describing the address as “amazing, inspirational.”
Predictably, Democrats were less impressed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted that the 80-minute speech, which decried illegal immigration and called for more reverence of the flag and the national anthem, “stoked the fires of division instead of bringing us closer together.”
While Trump spoke at length about immigration and foreign policy, he made only a passing reference to Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from a devastating hurricane last year and where the federal government has been criticized for a slow response. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. said the island is “is a metaphor for how this President sees all Latinos and people of color: he does not see us as his equals and he does not see us as fellow human beings. ”
Although the first half of Trump’s speech included multiple calls for bipartisanship, even Democrats who represent states that Trump won were skeptical of the president’s words. “We need a president who will not only call for more bipartisanship, but shows he’s willing to work in a bipartisan way,” tweeted Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
While the political climate appears challenging for many Republicans in this year’s upcoming midterms, none of the party’s most vulnerable candidates sought to put any distance between themselves and the president after the speech.
“I look forward to continue working with this administration to fix our failing roads and bridges, rebuild our military, address our broken immigration system, and help Nevadans get ahead,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz chastised Democrats for not sufficiently cheering on Trump’s speech.
“It was stunning to watch Washington Democrats sit there stone-faced and refuse to applaud more jobs, higher wages, jobs coming back to America,” said Cruz, a Republican, in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
While Trump may have kept to a script and avoided the name-calling and taunting that has characterized much of his first year, liberal pundit Van Jones said on CNN there was little substantively different about Trump’s speech. “He was selling sweet tasting candy with poison in it.”
Beyond the Capitol, conservative writer Jonah Goldberg at the National Review said, “except for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn’t a hint of fiscal conservatism to it.” Goldberg noted that Trump mentioned neither the budget deficit nor the national debt.
From the other end of the ideological spectrum, Trump’s description of a strengthening economy rang false to liberal writer Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine:
After depicting the American economy as a bleak wasteland before his election, Trump has rebranded it as unimaginable prosperity, fueled by the hope inspired by his brilliant reforms. In fact, nothing has yet changed.
One response that will likely come unscripted? The president’s response to the coverage of his own speech. Whatever narrative he may have set Tuesday evening, it’s possible Trump will have an entirely different message when he returns to his favorite medium, Twitter, perhaps as early as Wednesday morning.