Three critical components comprise a successful State of the Union address by a President of the United States: the Preview; the Speech; and, the Afterglow. Events worked against President Donald Trump before he ever stepped to the podium.
First, the chaos that is Iowa carried the Caucus/delegate count story that should have ended Monday night or Tuesday morning into the run-up to the State of the Union. Every major public affairs news broadcast had to cover the 62% of reported votes coming out of Iowa released just a few hours before the speech. Results that diminished a former Vice President and elevated a young mayor from South Bend, Indiana were not final nor are they determinative, but the initial results and their immediate implications dominated the news taking away attention from any State of the Union Preview.
Getting to the speech in a moment, consider what is snuffing out any possible Afterglow. First, final numbers in Iowa send the pundits scrambling to either confirm or adjust initial judgements. Then, the Senate goes into session just several hours after the speech to determine whether or not the Impeachment case presented to them by the House of Representatives necessitates removing the President from office. While removal from office is given no chance, the mere fact the vote occurs dominates the news.
With two out of the three critical components sailing into horrendous headwinds, everything rests with the speech. This put an enormous burden on a single element of the State of the Union trifecta making a chance for real impact on the long-term thinking of voters extraordinarily unlikely.
Which brings us to the speech…was anything new? No. Was it tempered politically? Yes, most of the time. Were there moving stories about guests in the gallery? Yes (even tear jerking). Was there a laundry list of great numbers? Yes, but the facts are being quickly rebutted – in fact, sitting behind the President, the Speaker was visibly shaking her head and saying, “that’s not true” during the speech. Throughout the night, the visuals were just so awkward, and the images speak volumes about the rupture between Congress and the President. Overall, delivery was good – some called it “Teleprompter Trump” – but the content gets forgotten by sunrise as Washington returns to the stories of the moment and the tweets of the day.
Summing up….SOTU 2020 has come and gone, likely to suffer a near total eclipse from the white hot political fires burning brightly throughout the land.
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore.