I can’t remember any moment during the campaign that was received as well by both parties as last night’s speech. Like I said in the open thread, it’s no surprise that he’d be on-message in a big spot: He delivered several big-picture policy speeches last year in which he stuck closely to the script, with solid results. But he’s never scored to the degree he did yesterday — so much so, in fact, that even the White House is reportedly surprised by it:
Some sources in WH are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech. Say Trump has not changed, no big shift in policy coming.
— Robert Costa (@costareports) March 1, 2017
Admittedly, expectations were low:
Pundit: “Doubts about Donald Trump have been quelled now that he has delivered an hour-long speech without jamming a pen into anyone’s eye."
— David Frum (@davidfrum) March 1, 2017
Today was supposed to be the day Trump signed his new travel ban order but that’s now been delayed by aides so that he can enjoy the sunny bipartisan buzz for a few more days. How sunny? Per CBS, approval of the speech among those who watched last night split 76/24. Note the Democratic numbers:
Overall, most watchers approved of the speech. Republicans did tune in to watch it in much greater numbers than Democrats (as a president’s party typically does) which bolstered those approval numbers. Forty percent of Democrats at least somewhat approved; 18 percent strongly approved
The president moved opinion among viewers on his plans for a number of policy issues, comparing their views before and after the speech. The percent favoring his plans for fighting terrorism, addressing crime, improving the economy, handling illegal immigration, and dealing with Obamacare all jumped…
Majorities overall were positive toward his plans for the military, trade, foreign policy, the budget deficit, and taxes. The president won favor from viewers for his plans to build roads and bridges — the one issue on which his approach appealed to most Democrats as well as nearly all Republicans.
Bear in mind, this is a guy whose favorable rating among Dems in NBC’s latest poll was nine percent. A lot of people who’d written him off liked what they saw and heard last night. The next round of job approval numbers will be interesting.
CNN’s poll was good news for Trump, too:
President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress received largely positive reviews from viewers, with 57% who tuned in saying they had a very positive reaction to the speech, according to a new CNN/ORC poll of speech-watchers.
Nearly 7-in-10 who watched said the President’s proposed policies would move the country in the right direction and almost two-thirds said the president has the right priorities for the country. Overall, about 7-in-10 said the speech made them feel more optimistic about the direction of the country…
On specific issues, Trump scored the highest marks for his proposed policies on the economy, with 72% saying those went in the right direction. Almost as many, 70%, said the same about his terrorism proposals. Slightly fewer, but still a majority, felt his policies on taxes (64%), immigration (62%) or health care (61%) were heading in the right direction.
The share of Democrats who said they felt “very” or “somewhat” positive about the speech was 46 percent in CNN’s polling. (The share of Republicans was … 99 percent.) There’s reason to think he made some headway too among the general public in terms of confidence in his abilities, although most of the movement right now looks to be among people who had zero confidence moving into the “well, not quite zero but still skeptical” column:
Two caveats, though. (Well, three.) Both CBS and CNN note that the audiences for a president’s speeches typically include more members of his own party than of the other, so the speech is always received a bit more warmly than it might have been if viewed by a more representative sample of the general public. People who watched Trump’s speech last night skewed Republican, just as those who watched Obama’s skewed Democratic. And as far as the 57 percent “very positive” figure goes, that’s encouraging for Trump but not world-beating: 66 percent said they felt “very positive” after Bush’s first speech in 2001 and 68 percent said so after Obama’s in 2009. Trump’s numbers are significant not because they’re unusually large — on the contrary — but because they’re not far behind Dubya and O, both of whom took office with much higher job approval ratings than Trump did. Trump may have helped himself last night to a degree that neither Bush nor Obama did, mainly because they didn’t have as much of a hill to climb in popularity as he has.
That said, here’s an interesting exchange involving Obama’s former chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau. Did Obama ever have a moment at the SOTU as memorable as Trump’s praise for Ryan Owens? Did he ever have a memorable moment at the SOTU, period?
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) March 1, 2017
The third caveat: If you doubted that the GOP has now been fully coopted by Trumpism (which you shouldn’t have if you watched Paul Ryan applauding various big-government Trump proposals), this poll result from CNN should disabuse you of your illusions. Remember, this was a speech in which Trump said nothing about entitlement reform, talked about bulking up military spending, and even mentioned Ivanka’s program of government-backed paid maternity leave. CNN asked Republican voters whether that agenda wasn’t conservative enough for their tastes. Result:
Rest in peace, tea party. You had — I was going to say, “you had a good run,” but eh. Did it really?
It’s all to the good, by the way, that “presidential Trump” is getting gobs of compliments for his tone last night. The guy clearly exults in praise, even when it comes from cretins like Vladimir Putin. The more applause New Trump gets, the more likely it is that we’ll see more of him. One of the takeaway lines last night was, “The time for small thinking is over, the time for trivial fights is behind us.” Trivial fights have never bothered President Tweetstorm before; if he’s serious about that, he’ll start cutting back the daily jabs at the “Clinton News Network” or whatever. In fact, there’s evidence that he’s cutting back already. Also all to the good.
Here’s the requisite Luntz focus group battling over the speech last night. Nearly all of them agreed that the speech was better than they’d expected.