Right after President Trump delivered his State of the Union Address, I said that Democrats should be very worried about the upcoming presidential election. David Von Drehle, the Washington Post’s most insightful liberal columnist in my view, is worried. He explains why in his latest column, perhaps the most perceptive I’ve seen about the SOTU speech:
[Trump’s] State of the Union speech was a lethally effective exploitation of the presidential bully pulpit. Did he overstate his accomplishments? Yes. Did he understate the record of his predecessor? Yes. Is that unusual in a campaign-year State of the Union? No.
But no previous address so cunningly adapted the ancient ritual of a formal speech to the visceral medium of television. A former TV star himself, Trump understands that people don’t just listen to what the president says. They also watch the reactions of the people in the room. He engineered the speech to force his opponents to react in potentially self-defeating ways.
Some examples. Rather than give the usual conservative lip service to school choice, Trump illustrated the issue by introducing a young African American girl in the gallery and announcing that she was getting a scholarship to attend her preferred school. What would House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats do, applaud for the happy child and risk offending their public-school-teacher base or sit on their hands and look like a bunch of Scrooges?
Rather than deliver the Republican boilerplate on abortion, Trump introduced a pro-life mom and her 2-year-old daughter, who was born barely halfway to term. Advances in extreme neonatology kept her alive. How would Democrats react to this cute little darling whose existence blurs the distinction between life in and out of the womb?
Rather than poke the usual verbiage at the wing of the Democratic Party that embraces the label of “democratic socialism,” Trump introduced Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whose quest to unseat his country’s socialist government had the entire Congress on its bipartisan feet. Now Democrats are left to explain why ousting socialists is good policy for Venezuela while electing them — the democratic variety, anyway — is right for the United States.
Viewers were left to wonder: Why wouldn’t Pelosi applaud money for historically black colleges and universities? What’s her beef with a serviceman who returns from deployment to hug his kids? Where’s her feeling for the brother of a man killed by an undocumented criminal? All of these visuals could be explained in policy terms, but as Ronald Reagan once confided to his diary, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Von Drehle says he wouldn’t be surprised if the next Gallup poll shows President Trump in positive territory for the first time. I wouldn’t be either.