Journalists and commentators are pressuring their peers to avoid giving President Trump any credit for delivering a good State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Trump is scheduled to give his remarks after 9 p.m. from the U.S. Capitol, and will emphasize “a safe, strong and proud America.” Attending as guests of the president and first lady Melania Trump are families of victims killed by illegal immigrants and people affected by the opioid crisis.
But the news media are signaling that it shouldn’t be seen as a shining moment for Trump.
“Let me throw down the gauntlet NOW,” liberal New York Times columnist Charles Blow tweeted Monday. “If anyone comes on my TV tomorrow night after the sotu saying whatever speech Trump READS somehow makes his [sic] sound good/presidential/unifying, I’m turning you off and never listening again.”
Let me throw down the gauntlet NOW: If anyone comes on my tv tomorrow night after the SOTU saying whatever speech Trump READS somehow makes his sound good/presidential/unifying, I’m turning you off and never listening again.— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) January 29, 2018
Michelle Goldberg, also of the Times, wrote, “I’m begging my fellow pundits not to get too excited should Trump manage to read from a teleprompter without foaming at the mouth or saying anything overtly racist. No matter how well Trump delivers the lines in his State of the Union … he will not become presidential.”
In a segment on CNN anticipating the speech, Atlantic magazine’s David Frum said he has no expectations for Trump to achieve success.
“Look, you can train a seal to sit on the side of a pool for an hour and behave itself,” he said. “That doesn’t make it no longer a seal.”
Tuesday’s speech will be Trump’s first State of the Union address, though after he was inaugurated in 2017, he delivered remarks to a joint session of Congress in February.
In a highly emotional moment midway through his speech, Trump recognized Carry Owens, the widow of a Navy SEAL, who was seated in the audience next to the first lady.
Liberal political commentator and frequent Trump critic Van Jones declared on CNN afterward that Trump “became president of the United States in that moment, period.”
Jones was roundly mocked by his peers thereafter for what they said was a superficial reading of Trump’s speech, and one sensitive moment meant to tug at the heartstrings.
The media appear to be avoiding having a similar episode play out this year.
“After a year as president, Trump has proven himself capable of reading words from a teleprompter,” a Washington Post news article on Tuesday said. “The former reality TV star can summon a performance to rival that of Martin Sheen as the aspirational President Jed Bartlet on ‘The West Wing’ when he chooses. What is less clear, however, is if he has the ability — or even the interest — to turn his well-delivered words into actual, tangible results, without self-sabotaging or undermining his and his team’s best intentions.”
Post columnist Dana Milbank said he expected media to overstate what Trump accomplishes in his speech. "On Tuesday night, the president will read a speech somebody else wrote for him," wrote Milbank. "The pundits will say he sounds presidential. And on Wednesday Donald Trump will go back to being Donald Trump."
Jeff Shesol of the New Yorker wrote Monday, however, that Trump is set to benefit from having to clear a low bar, set by the media.
“Nearly a year later, on the eve of his first State of the Union address, expectations of Trump remain stubbornly low,” he said. “In some respects, the bar has fallen even further: the question on many Americans’ minds today is not ‘What is the state of our union?’ but ‘What is the state of the President’s mental health?’ … The upside of all this, for Trump, is that he is again set to outperform predictions by speaking, as he likely will on Tuesday night, in complete sentences.”