The message

[On Tuesday] afternoon, I wrote that I was more interested than usual in the State of the Union address. And I … sort of regret writing that. …

Overall, I just don’t think this was a newsworthy night. The president had some good moments and some bad ones, some funny moments and some awkward ones, and overall the speech was so much of a hodgepodge that it didn’t really cohere into anything that’s going to matter. Within a day or two, a more interesting story will enter the news cycle, and everyone will have forgotten about it.

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight

From the live blog “What Went Down In Trump’s 2019 State Of The Union.” Full archive:

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Tuesday night, President [Donald] Trump stood before a joint session of Congress and touted the economic successes of his term so far. He embraced reasonable conservative positions with broad backing. He pointed out the opposition’s recent excesses on abortion and its frightening drift toward the ruinous ideology of socialism.

Trump argued for diplomacy and for an end to the wars in which America is currently involved. He did all this with an understated tone and a smile on his face, which has been a rare sight in recent months. The magnanimous image that Trump projected was enough to make Stacey Abrams’ partisan response seem small and factually challenged (“plants are closing, layoffs are looming”) in comparison.

If Trump could only show this side of himself more often, he’d have a 57 percent approval rating today, instead of 57 percent disapproval.

Editorial, Washington Examiner

From “If only Trump would do that more often.” Full article:

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From start to finish, Trump did something he rarely does: extol the virtue of the everyday American and give credit to the freedom that is our birthright. Yes, there were a couple of moments of typical Trumpian braggadocio, but in the main this was an exercise in unusual humility.

Trump’s political problems stem from the perception that he represents the United States’ past in his character, his manner and his ideas — and in each, the perception that he embodies America’s flaws instead of its virtues. Step by step, the speech worked to subtly undermine those perceptions.

Henry Olsen, Washington Post

From “Trump delivered the best, most Reaganesque speech of his tenure.” Full article:

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In his State of the Union address, Trump dangled several possibilities for bipartisan lawmaking — around health care and prescription drug costs, infrastructure spending, trade policy and even immigration reform. And yet this is the same guy who forced the longest government shutdown in United States history because he couldn’t get his own party, which had sole control of both houses of Congress for two years, to give him money for a medieval vanity border wall that even right-leaning experts say is pointless. The same president who repeatedly refused to back practical compromise legislation from his own party, and even his own vice president — Trump repeatedly saying he supported a policy option before changing his mind.

Even in his own State of the Union address on the supposedly unifying theme of “Choosing Greatness,” Trump contradicted his own speech by resorting to intensely divisive partisan attacks — including extreme far-right, fear-mongering against immigrants, abortion rights and even the Mueller investigation. A president committed to reaching across the aisle wouldn’t deceptively smear a law that protects women’s life-or-death medical decisions as allowing “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” Mind you, a president concerned with being morally or rhetorically consistent wouldn’t have actually ripped thousands of immigrant children away from their families.

Sally Kohn, USA Today

From “Donald Trump pretends to be presidential during State of the Union to con the nation.” Full article:

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We give Donald Trump a lot of grief around here (here = most of the United States) for being uniquely racist, incompetent, and cruel. But sometimes he’s also bad in low-stakes ways, like when he delivered this tremendously dumb conclusion to Tuesday night’s State of the Union, a … bucket of word barf that was somehow both spectacularly purple and totally flat at the same time.

Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate

From “The End of Trump’s State of the Union Was Just Really, Hilariously Poorly Written.” Full article:

The policies

[A]fter two years of failing to construct a border wall, Trump is aware that enthusiasm from his core supporters — which has helped buoy him through political tumult — may be waning. Which meant that sandwiched between soaring calls for unity were starkly partisan appeals for the wall. “As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection,” Trump said. “This is a moral issue.” Democrats erupted in boos and groans.

The segment resonated with its intended audience, though. “He committed to build a wall,” Steve Bannon told me. “What’s not to like?” …

What was most striking, though, was that other than calls for a border wall, Trump’s riff on immigration included no concrete policy proposals. This was a decided difference from his address in 2018, when he outlined four “pillars” for reforming the nation’s immigration system: a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “Dreamers”; a $25 billion trust for a wall along the Mexican border; ending the visa lottery in favor of a merit-based immigration system; and limiting family reunification to sponsorships for spouses and minor children only. To review those proposals today is to understand just how little progress the president has made vis-à-vis his key campaign promises, even as his party controlled both chambers of Congress.

Elaina Plott, The Atlantic

From “Trump Started His Reelection Campaign Last Night.” Full article:

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Trump said, in a line absent from his prepared remarks, that he wanted legal immigration “in the largest numbers ever.” Never mind that last year he endorsed large cuts to legal immigration, and rejected a Democratic offer of funding for a wall in part because it did not include those cuts … .

Ramesh PonnUru, National Review

The full entry titled “An Astonishing Ad-Lib,” from the National Review’s contemporaneous collection “The Corner.” For more:

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The president continually finds ways to highlight the yawning gap between more traditional, Ronald Reagan-style Republicans who believe the US must serve as a moral and mighty global beacon, and the “America First” crowd who say the US should curtail its adventurism abroad. Trump’s speech in front of those same congressional Republicans on Tuesday night was just the latest illustration of how he has reignited an intraparty feud on America’s global role.

Take, for example, his refrain that the United States needs to withdraw from longstanding military campaigns. During the State of the Union, Trump said the US has spent too much blood and treasure in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, citing the thousands of dead and injured American troops who’ve fought in brutal battles since 2001. Those days, he concluded, are soon coming to an end: “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”

Trump is serious about that. In December, he ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria and apparently considered cutting the 14,000-strong American force in Afghanistan in half.

But most Republicans are just as serious about US troop deployments — and would rather they stay where they are.

Alex Ward,

From “Trump’s State of the Union highlighted the GOP split on foreign policy.” Full article:

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[Trump] promised legislation to invest in “the cutting edge industries of the future.” But the speech was characteristically backward-looking. Trump talked up gains in manufacturing jobs and oil and gas exports, but didn’t once mention the word “technology,” nor any other tech policy issue, such as privacy, broadband, or antitrust.

Aides filled in the blanks. “President Trump’s commitment to American leadership in artificial intelligence, 5G wireless, quantum science, and advanced manufacturing will ensure that these technologies serve to benefit the American people and that the American innovation ecosystem remains the envy of the world for generations to come,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a statement.

Still, some of the administration’s other signature policy positions, such as the trade war with China and its hardline position on immigration, may be holding back progress in these areas.

Klint Finley and Tom Simonite, Wired

From “Trump pledges investment, but is silent on key tech issues.” Full article:

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Many American presidents have used the State of the Union address as an opportunity to make grand pronouncements about beating back health scourges. Barack Obama in 2016 called for a “moonshot” to cure cancer. George W. Bush in 2003 announced his intention to “turn the tide against AIDS” with the creation of PEPFAR, the global health program to fight AIDS.

Though health has not been a particular focus of his time in office, President Donald Trump highlighted a new major medical pledge in his speech Tuesday night: ending the HIV epidemic in America by 2030.

Julia Belluz,

From “Trump called for an end to HIV in the US by 2030. That’s totally realistic,” which asks seven public health experts what the U.S. “should do if the administration is serious about tackling the ongoing epidemic.” Full article:

The women of the House

[The president] beamed at the rows of women in white, female House members who were seated together and dressed in a single hue to make a statement about their progress and their strength.

It was to them that he targeted his assertion that “no one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year.”

He then addressed them even more directly: “Exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before.”

Indeed we do. There are 102 in the House. But here’s the thing: That group includes 89 Democrats and just 13 Republicans. History was made courtesy of the party that he worked hard in the midterms to defeat, that he works hard all the time to diminish and that he repeatedly trolled in the rest of his remarks on Tuesday night.

Frank Bruni, New York Times

From “In State of the Union Speech, Trump Comes Out as a Feminist.” Full article:

The Democratic response

In a brief speech lauded by Democrats, [former Georgia legislator and gubernatorial candidate Stacey] Abrams succeeded in elevating an event that is often awkward and anticlimactic by nature. With a measured tone and her trademark working-class anecdotes, Abrams outlined a raft of policy measures, from the potential of Medicaid expansion in combatting infant mortality to the importance of gun control and immigration reform. But the high point of the speech was her strong and vocal stance on protecting voting rights. As the national face of the party for a few minutes on Tuesday, Abrams pushed the issue of the franchise closer to the heart of Democratic politics, and gave Democrats another rhetorical weapon against the Republican Party.

Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic

From “Stacey Abrams’s New Strategy for Democrats.” Full article:

The general spectacle

Five years ago I argued that we should abolish the practice of the president doing shout-outs to human props — I mean, honored guests — in the audience at the State of the Union address. I wrote that the practice, begun by President Reagan, was unnecessary political theater that had become “a cliche and the object of satire.”

Despite the persuasiveness of my argument, the practice persists.

Among the guests invited by Trump and First Lady Melania Trump to Tuesday’s State of the Union address are relatives of Gerald and Sharon David, who, according to the White House, “were tragically murdered in their home in Nevada by an illegal immigrant,” and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grader from Delaware who “has been bullied in school due to his last name.”

Not to be outdone, members of Congress also will have guests at the speech who check various political and demographic boxes. …

I renew my objection to this use of human talking points by both the president and members of Congress. But I have another suggestion: Do away with the “official” televised response to the president’s address by a member of the opposing party. …

By all means Democrats (and independents such as [Bernie] Sanders) should feel free to critique the president’s address, and journalists should cover those remarks if they are newsworthy. But we have only one president, and there is only one State of the Union speech. The institution of an “official” response creates a false equivalence. Along with shout-outs to honored guests, it should be retired.

Michael McGough, Los Angeles Times

From “Bernie Sanders or Stacey Abrams? How about neither? …” published in advance of Tuesday evening’s events as part of the Los Angeles Times’ “Enter the Fray” collection. Full article: