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Trump Gets Good Marks From Supporters For Speech, But Can He Move It Forward?

Vice President Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud as President Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.
Jim Lo Scalzo Getty Images
Vice President Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud as President Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.

President Trump is receiving plaudits for his first joint address to Congress.

The White House certainly thinks it went well — so much so, it was reported that the White House is holding its revised travel ban, in part, to bask in the glow of the positive reviews.

Snap polls after the speech showed that people who watched it largely liked it.


The speech came at as good a time as any for Trump. His first month as president — marked by lower approval ratings than any recent president at the same point — has been chaotic and off message.

His speech Tuesday night was the opposite — organized and scripted.

It was pretty... normal. And, right now, Trump and his congressional GOP colleagues in particular could use a little normal, especially as they try to show they can govern.

All that said, there are still lots of questions for Trump and the GOP. His speech set priorities and delivered red meat, but put no meat on the bones.

Anyone have a better sense of what the Obamacare replacement will look like after last night? Anyone better informed about how Trump wants Congress to pay for that border wall? (Words not in the speech: "border adjustment tax.") Anyone know how he wants to pay for that $1 trillion infrastructure spending? (After all, Republicans have always said they're in favor of infrastructure spending, but could never agree with Democrats on how to pay for it in the Obama years.)


And, stylistically, it was more positive than his dire inaugural speech, but it wasn't buoyant — a shining city on a hill where the arc of history is long but bends toward justice, it was not.

Trump's supporters find hope in Trump's words of nostalgic repair, but he was never soaring — there were no moonshots or quests for cancer cures.

But how did it resonate? A majority of speech viewers told CNN in a poll immediately after the speech that they came away with a positive impression; almost seven in 10 said they think the policies he's proposing will move the country in the right direction; and almost two-thirds said they think he has the right priorities.

It should be noted, however, that this is not a poll of all Americans or even registered voters, but a group of people who decided to tune in for the speech that CNN reached out to beforehand. As CNN notes:

"People who choose to watch a political speech such as this one tend to be more supportive of the speaker. In this case, the pool of speech-watchers was about eight points more Republican than the population as a whole."

That's significant. It's also worth pointing out that the 57 percent who came away with a positive impression is higher than any Obama State of the Union, but lower than his 2009 joint address to Congress.

CBS/YouGov also interviewed speech-watchers – more than three-quarters approved of the speech; the same percentage said it was "positive," with 61 percent calling it "very positive"; and two-thirds said Trump is describing America "as it really is."

CBS also points out that "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."

Some 40 percent of Democrats, though, did also approve of the speech.

And perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the speech was the number who thought it was "presidential" — 82 percent.

That's significant because even supporters of Trump criticize him for his Twitter wars and off-the-cuff, off-message insults.

Those Republican-leaning suburban white women, concerned about his tone, were likely given some hope. Republicans in Congress were likely reassured of what's possible with Trump, that perhaps Trump is capable of a reset — if only he keeps off Twitter....

Is this the "pivot"?

Of course, other presidents who have been soaring in State of the Union-type speeches have been criticized for not laying out specific policy agendas. And when they lay out specific policy agendas, they are sometimes criticized for delivering too much of a laundry list.

Trump is getting good marks for delivering a speech that was normal, but it didn't advance much of his agenda except to calm those who want to support him.

And remember, this is Trump. He's done this before. He got "presidential" a handful of times during the campaign when his back was against the wall.

"We've got to be nice and cool, nice and calm," Trump implored himself at a rally in Florida a week before Election Day. "All right. Stay on point, Donald. Stay on point. No sidetracks, Donald. Nice and easy."

Trump has always reverted back. The past has always been the best predictor of the future for Trump, and there's no reason to think that's not true now.

It's not clear it will matter, though. The door is open for success for Trump — in spite of his worst instincts. That's because the thing that has mattered most to successful legislative agendas for presidents is simple: numbers. It was true for Johnson and his Great Society measures; it was true for Obama and health care.

Trump and Republicans have a golden opportunity, controlling both chambers, the White House, the majority of governorships and legislatures — and a favorable 2018 midterm landscape. That kind of foundation can withstand Twitter spats.

Because of that, there's less risk for Trump politically — until or unless something really goes wrong. He's got a lot of room for error, and last night's speech can only help him with the people he needs it to help with.

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