Snap Reactions To Tonight's Speeches

[ Posted Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 – 20:44 UTC ]

President Trump just got done delivering the first primetime Oval Office speech of his presidency, which was followed by a rebuttal from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The entire experience was an odd one, mostly for the brevity of both speeches, which were planned to be eight minutes each (I did not time them, but they both seemed to fall in that ballpark). So my snap reactions will likewise be abbreviated, meaning this column won't be anywhere near as long as the ones I write after State Of The Union speeches (for instance).

The usual caveat applies -- all direct quotes were hastily jotted down by me, and I could easily have gotten a word or two wrong or out of place, but I do believe I've captured the essence of what was said. Just to be honest, up front. OK, enough of that, let's get to it.


President Trump's speech reactions

Overall impressions were that Trump kind of rushed through his remarks, although he did stay on script for the entire time (I didn't notice any glaring ad-lib moments, in other words). Normally when reading off a TelePrompTer, Trump is much more singsong and his delivery is full of pauses and odd inflections. Tonight these were mostly absent, but they were replaced with the kind of speedy delivery not usually heard from the president. I'm not sure which style works better for him, but the difference from his usual TelePrompTer pace was indeed noticeable. In appearance, Trump seemed rather squinty-eyed, as if the text on the TelePrompTer wasn't big enough for him to easily read.

The one thing I did bother to count during Trump's speech was his use of the word "crisis," after Mike Pence set some sort of record for the word's use in an earlier interview. Trump wasn't nearly as single-note as Pence was, only uttering "crisis" six times in eight minutes (although I may have missed a few, I freely admit).

In terms of the content in Trump's speech, there really wasn't much of anything new. There were a few specifics as to the current standoff with Congress, but the rest of the speech could easily have been recycled from one of his midterm campaign rallies. There was the constant fearmongering, the threats of drugs and rape and death for all Americans, and the usual slew of outright lies. Oh, he did manage a new one, or at least one I hadn't encountered before: that the wall would somehow "pay for itself." His math in this regard was just as laughable as his erroneous math in proclaiming that his new trade deal with Mexico has a single peso in it for border wall construction.

Everyone else out there in the punditocracy is probably enumerating all the lies Trump told, so I'll leave it to others to provide a comprehensive list. The ones that stuck out for me were things like Trump claiming he had sent a "detailed" plan to Congress (even he can't seem to come up with a solid answer as to what he wants in the budget), and that the Border Patrol had somehow "requested" the $5.7 billion for the new wall (they haven't, Trump requested this amount).

There were also the usual erroneous stats on immigrants and crime, of course, as well as plenty of apocalyptic language about how dire the threat of brown people to everyone else in America is: "Savagely murdered in cold blood," and: "Viciously stabbed" and all the rest of it.

The president never really bothered to make the case for why this was all so important right now that he had to shut the government down. He pointed the finger at Democrats, but he didn't adequately lay out his own position. He did, rather laughably, issue a call to the public to get on the phone and browbeat Democrats in Congress to give him his wall money, but that likely isn't going to be very effective, seeing as how the idea itself isn't very popular with the public (and is even less popular in Democratic states and districts).

The hashed-over flavor of his speech combined with his too-fast delivery added up to a rather boring speech, in the end. Trump himself never even got slightly animated during his entire delivery, except maybe in his final sentence (but that could have merely been his relief that it was over). The entire thing was nothing more than a demand that Democrats do what he says or else -- and he doesn't seem to realize he just lost a big election on that same strategy.


Democratic response reactions

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered the Democratic response, standing at a podium assumably somewhere in the Capitol. Both had a very serious demeanor and both had to fit their message in to an even shorter format than Trump. Pelosi went first, followed by Schumer.

Nancy Pelosi, since she only had half the time Trump did, wasted no time and essentially called the president a liar in her first sentence. She then set up the rest of her speech with the dichotomy of: "The president has chosen fear... we choose facts." She then prefaced all her subsequent comments with: "The fact is..." which I thought worked pretty well, although with only four minutes she obviously didn't have the time to use this as effectively as she could have in a longer speech.

Pelosi also wasted no time in setting forth the basic Democratic argument: Democrats have passed bipartisan budget bills, which could reopen the government tomorrow. The shutdown was "just plain wrong." Trump wanted "a wall he always promised Mexico would pay for." Pelosi, with such limited time, had to paint with very broad strokes, but I thought she did an admirable job of doing so. She made the case that only one man was responsible for the shutdown, that there are better ways to have political disagreements, and that Democrats were the adults in the room who wanted to see the government reopen as soon as possible.

Chuck Schumer spoke next, and built upon the groundwork Pelosi had already laid. But not before getting in a few of his own shots very early on, such as: "We don't govern by temper tantrum," and: "The president appeals to fear, not facts." Schumer stressed the point that the legislation to reopen the government was in fact bipartisan, which was a good point to make. As time goes on, more and more Republicans (starting in the House, most likely) are going to start voting for the Democratic budget bills. The House budget bills all use exactly the same language as the ones written and passed by the Senate Republicans just before the shutdown started, so even the bills themselves are bipartisan in their creation.

Schumer gave voice to the hundreds of thousands of government workers who are about to miss another paycheck this Friday, which was an excellent point to make because the media is increasingly making this the lead in their shutdown stories (which will only increase for the rest of this week).

Schumer noted that historically Oval Office addresses were used for serious crises, and charged that Trump had just "used the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis and stoke fear." Schumer's entire speech was direct and to the point, ending with his best line of the night: "The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall."



I, of course, am pretty biased, but even objectively I think the president didn't do himself any favors tonight. Because he had no new arguments to make and no new proposals to offer, his entire speech came off as nothing more than a stale retread of all his campaigning last year. He did not (as many were worried he'd do) declare a national emergency and grant himself emergency powers as a result. There wasn't a lot of substance to his speech, and it merely restated his position once again.

I think the Democratic leaders, by comparison, did advance their cause tonight, if only because many Americans hadn't really heard their side of the story so far. Trump's media megaphone is so large that the Democratic position hadn't adequately been aired, and tonight Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi did a pretty good job of boiling it down to its essence and reminding America that this could all be over if Trump would just stop with his tantrum.

So, on balance, I'd say that the Democrats advanced their cause tonight while Trump didn't do much for his. As always, I have yet to read what others are saying about the speeches, so perhaps this won't square with what others thought, but then that is always the nature (and risk) of these snap-reaction columns.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


15 Comments on “Snap Reactions To Tonight's Speeches”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, now I'll go read what everyone else thought!



  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    good analysis, though i also don't recall donald ever before suggesting that democrats wanted a steel barrier, and he would magnanimously comply. yes, donald told all his usual lies, but he did make it through ten minutes of speech without going off-script, which for him is an accomplishment. i'm sure fox news called it "presidential."

    chuck and nancy chose "facts over fear" which in my mind is a losing argument. voters don't vote with facts, they vote with emotion. the democratic response would have been better off focusing on the steps the trump administration has taken to make the situation worse, like separate families at the border, kidnap the children, deport the parents and not bother to keep any records of who belonged to whom. 2600 children in cages would be hyperbole if it weren't true, and now he wants six billion dollars to build a monument to his own cruelty, and is holding almost a million american citizens' paychecks hostage until he gets it? the NERVE of this guy!.


  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    addendum: six billion of YOUR tax dollars.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think the Democratic response was a failure of leadership in that the bulk of their response time (why both Pelosi and Schumer and not just one of them with eight minutes??) should have been devoted to explaining what real border security requires (albeit a shortened version, sweet and to the point) and why people should support these solutions.

    I heard someone say tonight that the symbol of America should remain the statue of liberty and not a border wall.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    That was very well said - couldn't agree more!

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    The Trump Family Business Doctrine has always been dominated by just two elements: 1) publicity and 2) protracted litigation. The speech last night reflected Trump's deeply held belief in the old saying "there is no such thing as bad publicity."

    The speech was a tissue of Trump Border Wall Lies, almost certainly crafted by professional writers researching earlier off-the-cuff Tump-isms. Trump read this familiar sounding script with few flubs, which actually seems to put to rest the notion that he can't read.*

    A large segment of professional political news commentators will point out all the lies in Trump's speech, and a smaller number of professionals will promote the lies as truth. The speech and the commentary will be committed to YouTube, where it will be cloned and will never die and drift endlessly thru social media.

    The speech was a political commercial. Nothing more. Commercials are the offspring of the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Trump is hoping he can win the fight by dominating public opinion and hoping enough Republican politicians will go along with that. This strategy may work, but I think it's a risky bet.

    There is an old Flintstones gag where a critter under the sink serves as a biological garbage disposal. "It's a living." says the critter. Whenever I see a run-of-the-mill commercial I think of that critter, and my uncle who made a pretty good living as an NYC ad man. I thought of that critter last night.

    *It doesn't mean Trump likes to read, or that he can read for comprehension, or that he reads very much, or very deeply.

  7. [7] 
    Paula wrote:

    After all the hype which included the possibility Blotus would declare a national emergency the speech fell flaaaaaaat. Thank goodness.

    I was reminded yesterday about the BIG SPEECH he announced during his campaign in which he was going to reject birtherism. He opened with: "Obama was born in the United States" or something similar and immediately moved on to promoting his new hotel in the Old Post Office (I think it was that one.)

    Reportedly he knew the address was going to land with a thud and didn't want to do it - that was the "energy" he brought to his appearance.

    Nancy & Chuck came across as VERY SERIOUS. As TV performances it may be they could have done "better" but as a response to a loon they were fine with me.

    I was geared up, to an extent, for the sound and fury that would erupt if he had declared a national emergency and was relieved he didn't.

    I think it's quite possible that's the way this criminal presidency concludes - everyone bracing for chaos when, in the end, DT sidles out the back door in the dead of night. Maybe after they turn off the water as, reportedly, the WH hasn't paid their quarterly water bill due to the shutdown. That would be hilarious. Unlikely of course.

    FWIW: in here:

    The shutdown has pushed the Russia investigation out of the news cycle. But Trumpworld knows it hasn’t gone away. Rudy Giuliani recently told a friend that he expects Mueller’s report to be “horrific,” a person briefed on the conversation said (Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment). “You’re already hearing people speculate Trump could do a deal and resign.”

    The White House did not respond to a request for comment

  8. [8] 
    Paula wrote:

    Lost yesterday but gaining a bit of steam today is the revelation that Manafort, while in charge of Blotus' campaign, shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik.

  9. [9] 
    Paula wrote:

    The response by Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer has slightly larger preliminary numbers than the president's address.

    The quarter hour (9-9:15 p.m. ET) containing the president's speech drew a combined 28.1 household rating in metered markets on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, Fox News and NBC. The following 15 minutes, including analysis and the Pelosi-Schumer rebuttal, averaged 29.3 across those same networks, a bump of about 4 percent.

    Complete ratings for the speech and response will be available later in the day.

  10. [10] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Trump's biggest fear should be that he is vulnerable on so many fronts. If THE WALL is his Alamo, he must also contend with:

    Presidential Inauguration Cash (his Bay of Pigs?)

    Conspiracy with Russia (his Stalingrad?)

    Conspiracy with non-Russian entities (his collision between HMS Victoria & HMS Camperdown)

    The Trump Hotel (his Waterloo?)

    The Trump Foundation (his Pickett's Charge?)

    Hush Money (his Little Big Horn?)

    This is not an exclusive list of Trump expeditions that threaten to turn into full scale, Presidency terminating debacles. Trump's political career is beginning to look like just another Land War In Asia. ;-)

  11. [11] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Paula 8,9

    Like I said, just another land war in Asia. What could possibly go wrong with that?

  12. [12] 
    Paula wrote:

    [10-11] TS: Yep!

    With incoming from all directions the smartest thing Blotus could do, I think, is to try to cut a deal NOW. (Will his instinct for self-preservation trump his ego? In time? We'll see.)

    Rod Rosenstein is bowing out soon, which many are interpreting as a signal that Mueller's going to make it safely to conclusion and doesn't need Rod's protection anymore.

    Hope they're right.

  13. [13] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I don't think the live viewership means all that much in 2019. As I noted earlier, I believe his reason to go onto TV is to get the speech into YouTube and from YouTube onto social media. Trump believes viral distribution and targeting of snippets will rile up his social media base and remind Republican Representatives they could be subjected to an unwanted primary battle. This is basically an extension of his Twitter Game.

  14. [14] 
    TheStig wrote:

    :-) Fun playing tag with you Paula.

    I have to get to the gym before the good treadmills are taken and the humidity gets unbearable.

    Catch you later...

  15. [15] 
    Paula wrote:

    [14] TS: back atcha!

    [13] Viewership, rightly or wrongly, get's hyped and if there had been a huge viewership & DT beat the Dem response, you can bet he'd push it.

Comments for this article are closed.