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Biden's Speech Was a Scattered, Unmemorable Retread That Won't Reverse His Unpopularity

Jabin Botsford, Pool via AP

On the air earlier this week, I said I didn't think that President Biden was capable of moving the public opinion needle very much, even if he delivered the speech of his life. Last night, he did not deliver the speech of his life. A few scattered thoughts about a rather scattered State of the Union Address: 


(1) The opening passage on Ukraine and Russia was generally strong – even stirring at times. His stilted, struggling delivery blunted the force of the president's words a bit, but a powerful unity prevailed in that room, in those moments. One hopes the people of Ukraine will be encouraged and buoyed by that show of solidarity.

(2) Not mentioned once: Afghanistan, aside from a GOP heckler. That disgraceful debacle precipitated Biden's political free-fall, from which he has not recovered. We left thousands of Americans and US allies behind. The president laughably called the withdrawal an "extraordinary success" at the time. So successful, it seems, that he didn't even bother to reference it in his first State of the Union Address. A damning omission. 

(3) As soon as Biden pivoted to domestic issues, the speech became a dud. It felt as if the initial portion on the war was written separately, as was the flourish at the very end (setting aside the president's awkward "go get him" ad lib). Sandwiched in between was a disjointed hodgepodge of topics and subjects, with Biden careening from one to another fairly abruptly. He lied about the GOP tax reform bill, misled on deficits, and lied about his own tax plan (House Democrats recently voted to raise taxes on millions of middle-class families, while offering tax breaks to blue state millionaires). Without saying the words "build back better" in that exact order, Biden harped on his bloated BBB agenda – seemingly in the context of alleviating inflation(!) – evidently having learned nothing about why it failed in the Senate. He just served up a retread of the same arguments about the same policies he's been flogging for months. Sen. Joe Manchin wasn't impressed


Biden also revisited "voting rights" bills that also failed in the Senate. At times, it felt like we were being treated to a guided tour of what he hasn't accomplished. On immigration, he mumbled a few words that could have been lifted from a generic 2013 Obama speech, utterly ignoring the magnitude of the border crisis that is raging due to his policies. It was totally disconnected from the depth and urgency of the problem. The COVID bit struck me as a tightrope act between where most of the country is, and where the fanatical COVID safetyists in his base are. All in all, after the first few minutes on Ukraine, the address was entirely forgettable and unremarkable. "The tide did not turn tonight," declared Obama guru David Axelrod. Correct. And boy, do the Democrats need the tide to turn


(4) On several occasions, Biden attempted to resurrect his campaign-era "unity" act, which has no credibility at this point. He called his opponents confederates and segregationists a few weeks ago, and launched another racial smear on Monday. The non-partisan "unity agenda" items he laid out were fine, but perhaps he'd have been best-served leaving that whole section in his back pocket for next year's speech when he'll likely have no choice but to work on a bipartisan basis. The midterms are coming. Speaking of which...

(5) Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' GOP response was perfectly acceptable. In fairness to her, it's a tough gig in general, and Tim Scott set a very high bar last year. She got off to a rocky start, nervously glancing off-camera a few times, but warmed to the task as the speech went on. She came across as affable and competent. Unlike Biden, she talked about Afghanistan, in addition to Ukraine. But the bulk of her remarks (which could have been trimmed down a bit, especially at the beginning) represented a direct, clear, and resonant indictment of Biden's America – from biting inflation to rising crime, to the border mess, to COVID restrictionists' hypocrisies, to schools. If Republicans hammer away on that exact messaging for the next eight-plus months, it will be a Red November. I'll leave you with her full speech


UPDATE - State of the Union audiences are self-selecting, as partisans are more likely to watch their side's president speak – and quick polls of viewers skew accordingly. See this Trump result from 2019, for example. Democrats are trying to spin good numbers from flash polls of heavily Democratic samples, but CNN's results really aren't great, even with the home cooking: 


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