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Commentary: Nobody's giving Trump credit for the state of the union

State of the Union focus?
State of the Union focus? 03:50

Suppose there was a State of the Union address and nobody came?

While that's not likely to happen Tuesday night—President Trump can count on the 289 House and Senate Republicans to show up.  And while there's a major push on social media to #BoycottSOTU, only a handful of Democrats (and one Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg) have announced their intention to stay home.

A more realistic—and just as problematic—question is, what if you gave a State of the Union address…and nobody listened?

This is the dilemma facing Donald Trump: If he follows convention and declares "The state of our union is strong," he has a much better case to present than most Americans would have expected just six months ago.  Trump ally Alfredo Ortiz, head of the Job Creators Network, previewed that case in USA Today:

And most Americans agree that the economy is humming along. A new Fox News poll finds Americans feel better about the economy than at any time since January, 2001. A record 17 percent say the economy is "excellent," surpassing the previous record (13 percent) at the end of the dotcom boom in June 2000.

So Trump has some facts behind him. What he doesn't have is fans—people willing to give him credit for the economic upturn. A recent CBS News poll showed Donald Trump has the lowest end-of-first-year approval rating (37 percent) in the modern polling era. While many Americans don't feel that they've directly benefited from his policies, among those who said the economy was in good shape, only a third gave the president most of the credit. Twenty-seven percent said he had no impact at all. 

This echoes a Washington Post poll finding that more people (50 percent) give President Obama credit for today's economy than President Trump (38 percent).  

Why? Because most Americans just don't like Donald Trump. And a significant percentage of people with negative views of Trump really, really don't like him. Over the year he's been in office, his overall disapproval rating has risen 10 percentage points. That rate is even higher among independents. 

So while Trump may be planning to give a bipartisan State of the Union address and "speak from the heart," those words will largely fall on two groups: People who already support the president and will cheer everything he says; and people who wouldn't listen to Trump if he were giving out the winning numbers for the next Mega Millions lottery.

The opposition to Trump is so passionate that they're offering "resist and persist counter-programming" to the presidential address. MoveOn.org is presenting something they call the #PeoplesSOTU Tuesday night. "Charmed" star Alyssa Milano is using social media to present a series of short videos "supporting Dreamers and immigrants" during Trump's speech.  Black Entertainment Television will present a post-speech response by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-California, one of the Democrats boycotting the SOTU.

Some liberals are so opposed to the Trump presidency they're calling for an end to the State of the Union address altogether.

"It makes me ill just imagining President Donald Trump at the upcoming State of the Union speech, preening, bloviating and bashing his enemies from the well of the U.S. House of Representatives," writes progressive columnist Eric Zorn in the Chicago Tribune.

"For all of its pomp and ceremony — two raucous standing ovations for the president before he even speaks a word? — the State of the Union lacks dignity as much as it lacks purpose." And so, Zorn says, it's time to go back to the pre-Woodrow-Wilson policy of presidents sending a written report on the "State of the Union" to Congress instead of delivering a speech.

Trump supporters note that liberals never complained about the impropriety of the speech during President Obama's eight years at the lectern. They also point out that much of Trump's message Tuesday night will be in the Democrats' wheelhouse: Infrastructure, trade and a compromise on immigration that would grant some level of amnesty to over a million people in the U.S. illegally.  

In short, Donald Trump have plenty to talk about, and he's likely to give a speech that would advance that conversation.  The problem for congressional Democrats who would like to engage on these issues is that their progressive base is screaming "Don't listen! Resist! Resist!" 

Will Democrats who fear a primary opponent far more than they fear President Trump pick up the conversation Wednesday morning? Don't bet on it.

 

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