Yup, President Trump spoke to Congress Tuesday night, and he did not bite a live bat in half.
Trump is finally presidential. That is to say, “capable of delivering a boring speech full of meaningless platitudes.”
We are passing the torch of truth, liberty and justice. What is Trump speaking about? Unity. Where is he speaking about it from? His heart.
We should never have doubted him.
What does he want to do with the country, exactly? Well, don’t worry. He is speaking in fluid sentences and has not paused yet to mock a former Miss USA or complain about the Fake Media.
In the entire speech he didn’t use the word “bad hombres” once! It was the Gettysburg Address, by Trump standards. The facts were not exactly right, and the plans were no less alarming than usual — but they came packaged in such beautiful, coherent sentences. Bravery and freedom, my fellow Americans.
It was just wonderful. Everything but the content.
Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post
Trump presented himself as having made an aggressive start at championing the cause of working people and promised a new era of rising wages, bustling factories and coal mines, sparkling air and water, and cheaper and better health care, all behind a “great great wall.” He told a few whoppers but largely kept his eyes riveted to his teleprompter and his delivery subdued. He even opened his speech with a long-overdue condemnation of hate “in all of its very ugly forms.”
We heard again the same sorts of gauzy promises of a future Edenic America, a sort of Trumptopia, that characterized his campaign. Across his first few weeks in office, Trump has shown little sign of delivering anything for working Americans beyond whatever satisfaction they may derive from watching him bait the Washington establishment and attack the reality-based media.
Yet Trump has certainly not forgotten America’s “forgotten men and women.” The White House is assiduously stoking their fears, grievances and prejudices, and selling photo-ops as accomplishments in order to portray an undisciplined, unfocused president as “President Action, President Impact.”
Trump closed his address by recalling the historic accomplishments of “the country’s builders and artists and inventors” and imagining what Americans can accomplish today. It’s time for the American president to do his job as well.
NEW YORK TIMES
Only the willfully blind saw anything except a well-constructed, powerfully delivered address Tuesday night. Many have praised Trump’s tone. Almost all conservative critics applauded most of his substance (with disquiet over his rhetoric on trade passing quickly over House Speaker Paul Ryan’s face and the hearts of most Reagan conservatives).
The heart of the speech, though, was the president’s tribute to Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens and his widow, Carryn, who in an act of incredible courage attended the speech and allowed the nation to grieve with her. It was a transcendent moment, and indeed a defining moment.
There is a ginned-up controversy on the left over remarks the president made earlier in the day in response to another ginned-up controversy about the mission to capture or kill terrorists in Yemen. That mission tragically included the death of Owens, even as it succeeded in its objectives, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and confirmed by Trump in his address. Owens died protecting the nation’s security — and every citizen.
But critics seized on Trump’s comments about the mission and reports alleging that it was both rushed and botched. Trump’s critics seem to deeply desire to attribute to him what would be a terrible example of blame-shifting by the commander in chief. It isn’t an irrational opinion, but it also isn’t one that rings true.
Those whose contempt for Trump is warping every instinct into one that sees only the worst of motives risk — and indeed may have already willed into being — a wall of refusal to hear any further critiques from them. Turning every statement, every speech, every interview into the occasion of the harshest condemnation does not lead to rising negatives for the president. It instead cements the narrative that the elite media is out to delegitimize and destroy the Trump presidency. It’s a trap the media may have already fallen into.
Hugh Hewitt, Washington Post
Beneath the obeisance to the beltway rules about what addresses to joint sessions of Congress are supposed to look like lurked Trump Classic. He’s still the man who wants to aggrandize the executive and expand the power of law enforcement by making the country believe it is under threat from dark forces that only a strong hand can deal with.
What I saw was not a New Trump but a shrewd Trump apparatus throwing some bones of optimism to establishmentarians hankering to get on board. I suspect members of Trump’s base heard the music of fright, dread and chaos, and they knew that was still the point.
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post
Besides urging an array of legislative goals that will challenge a Congress already struggling with the complexities of Obamacare and tax reform, Trump presented a typically self-congratulatory listing of his “progress” in fulfilling promises.
A CNN poll showed a majority of viewers reacted positively. Though, as has frequently been the case, Trump attracted lower support than former Presidents Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s initial speeches to Congress.
Two things will almost certainly follow. Congressional Republicans will press ahead with what Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, calls “opportunities the Trump presidency provides” to enact their long-standing agenda.
And though the White House delayed Wednesday’s scheduled issuance of a revised immigration limitation order, Trump’s speech will likely be overtaken quickly by continuing dramatic displays of executive authority, like that and Monday’s reversal of a prior Justice Department stance questioning the motives behind Texas’ voter identification law.
Carl P. Leubsdorf, Dallas Morning News
I don’t give a gnat’s rear end about Trump’s demeanor or delivery during his address. Nothing he said changed any of the things he has done, or any of the things he has failed to say.
Nothing erased the hateful, hurtful, divisive nonsense he has been spewing for more than a year. He still attacked a Gold Star family. He still deflected blame for the death of a Navy SEAL. He still held off on denouncing anti-Semitic acts until he had no other choice.
He’s still embraced and lauded by racists and white nationalists, and he’s still unpredictable and wildly self-obsessed.
This was not a pivot. This was not a great speech. It was just a speech. And we, just as before, remain one Trump tweet away from lunacy.
Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune
We might have to wait for the White House memoirs to get the full story of how Trump was convinced to chain himself to a teleprompter and avoid both refighting old wars and launching new ones. Of course, since the overnight verdict on the speech was positive, we will soon be treated to predictable leaks of credit-claiming by Trump insiders.
Normally, a successful address to the Congress would set the tone for the next few months on Capitol Hill and move opinion polls. But Trump is so omnipresent and so mercurial that the lasting effects of a single speech might be more evanescent than usual.
Critics have stressed many of the missing elements in the Trump speech — like Russia, Syria and the ludicrous notion that Mexico could be bludgeoned into paying for a border wall. But in policy terms the most striking omission was a full-throated sermon on the dangers of increased national debt.
There were hints that this will be a shop-’til-you-drop presidency.
An equally striking change of tone was the relative lack of fearmongering about terrorism. A single sentence was devoted to the memories of Sept. 11, the Boston marathon bombing, and the shootings in San Bernardino.
There was also a message embedded in Tuesday night’s speech for Democrats who gleefully thrill to a caricature version of Donald Trump. And that blunt message is: Never forget how quickly Trump can change his onstage style when the ratings begin to slip.
Walter Shapiro, CQ-Roll Call
Clearly his speech was a reset of sorts. Almost, I must say, reasoned and well-delivered.
“I’m here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength ... My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women’s health, and to promote clean air and clean water ...”
This is Donald Trump?
There was little self-aggrandizement. There was no “I alone” can fix the country’s broken systems. Even his obsession with crowd size, polls, Hillary and the news media took a night off.
This instead was his vision thing, renewing the American spirit.
I suspect Trump’s performance moves his numbers, which, let’s be honest, is what Tuesday night was largely about. But the larger issue is whether an administration that started by pushing policies to punish can pivot in ways that embrace more than just the president’s base.
For that to happen requires a level of effort well beyond one speech.
John Baer, Philadelphia Daily News