Trump's State of the Union changed no minds — but at least no one called it "presidential"

Not many people felt that Trump reached across the aisle

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 31, 2018 8:27AM (EST)

 (Getty/Win McNamee)
(Getty/Win McNamee)

President Donald Trump may have told reporters prior to his 2018 State of the Union address that he wanted to emphasize "unity," but the broader reaction to his speech suggests that it was as polarizing as much of the rest of his presidency.

Perhaps one sign came from Bernie Sanders, who delivered the fake clap that people seemed to feel.

Conservative supporters of the president were a bit more happy, characterizing his speech as an unmitigated triumph. Some of them singled out Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., for leaving the chamber in protest when Trump supporters began chanting "USA! USA!"

Meanwhile, Democrats and other progressives took to Twitter to lambast Trump's speech, a stark contrast to the bipartisan support that his previous State of the Union managed to accrue.

Among the more detached political analysts, the reaction was similarly split. Political consultant Frank Luntz lavished praise on the speech, while MSNBC's analyst Chuck Todd argued that Trump's words rang hollow because he hasn't practiced what he preached.

CNN's Jake Tapper argued that the speech had a Jekyll-and-Hyde quality to it, metaphorically describing it as Trump "reaching out" to Democrats with one hand and "holding up a fist" with the other.

He added, "This really is the mystery of Donald Trump, the riddle of Donald Trump, the enigma that he will leave here thinking that he gave a very unifying speech."

There was a similar lack of support for the speech on Fox News, where Chris Wallace argued that the speech wasn't sufficiently bipartisan and Juan Williams admitted, "I don’t think this was the olive branch speech by any stretch that the White House has advertised."

Polls taken after the speech indicated that reactions to it were similarly split on partisan lines. A CBS News poll found that Republicans were likely to approve of the speech, as were Trump-leaning independents, while Democrats and anti-Trump independents were not inclined to feel that way. A CNN poll, meanwhile, found that Trump's speech had the poorest performance of any State of the Union message over the last 20 years, although it still garnered a 70 percent positive response from viewers.

In other words: The likelihood is that several weeks from now, no one will be talking about Trump's State of the Union address this year.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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