The president's annual State of the Union address is never much fun for the party whose candidate is not the occupant of the White House. The speech is typically a laundry list of accomplishments and aspirations that tend to fall along party lines ideologically. So it's to be expected that the nonpresidential party would be less than thrilled.
That said, President Donald Trump's first State of the Union was striking — not only because it was arguably his most presidential speech in tone and tenor thus far — but also because it revealed the spectacular bankruptcy of the Democratic Party in 2018.
Trump struck a bipartisan tone from the beginning. He referenced the many natural disasters that have devastated the country, and took that opportunity to acknowledge the first responders — some of whom were present in the room — who he thanked personally.
He then called for unity not just in tragedy, but in policy.
This provided a natural segue into the economic boom that has followed Trump's election. With understandable pride, the president referenced the stock market's skyrocketing values over the past year, the millions of new jobs created, the growth in manufacturing jobs in particular, the billions of dollars corporations have committed to investing in the U.S., and the rise in average wages.
These points received great cheers and applause. From Republicans. The Democrats were seated and sullen.
Trump continued, citing the economic milestones of record low unemployment for black and Hispanic Americans. Again, it was Republicans who cheered. Democrats, however — most visibly and shockingly the Congressional Black Caucus members — refused to applaud, and looked sour.
Trump hailed the increase in consumer confidence, and proclaimed the beneficial impact of the recent tax cuts on middle-class families and small businesses. He introduced the owners of a small welding business in Ohio, as well as one of their employees — an African-American man — and told how this employee was able to educate his daughters and buy a new home with the increase in his wages.
The Democrats' response was muted, at best.
Trump devoted a good deal of his speech to support for police, the military and veterans, to whom he promised more accountability in the VA, and better health care. He reiterated his commitment to the American auto industry.
On immigration — where the differences between Democrats and Republicans could not be more stark — Trump offered an olive branch. He announced his plan to offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people here — in exchange for legitimate border security and a wall to ensure that "amnesty" for millions does not keep repeating itself.
And in a remarkable departure from traditional Republican priorities, Trump announced his intention to press Congress for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending and paid family leave.
At many of these moments in his address, Trump not only looked directly at the Democrats in the audience, he physically extended his hand to them. The gesture was clear: I'm offering to meet you halfway.
You would think that this would be music to Democrats' ears. You'd be wrong. Most of the Democrats present never budged from their seats, smiled or applauded to show their support — even on issues they have traditionally championed. Faced with example after example of improved circumstances for constituencies they claim to represent, Democrats refused to stand or applaud (West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly were notable exceptions), and in some cases, booed.
This is inscrutable. And let's consider the broader implications. The Democratic Party is so bereft of ideas — and Democrats themselves are so petty — that they're actually angry when their political opponent's policies have been successful in helping the people they claim to care about: minorities, the middle class, veterans and small-business owners.
Perhaps Democrats are upset because Trump not only gave one of the most conservative SOTU speeches in recent memory, he also managed to co-opt a big chunk of the Democrats' signature issues. After all, if they're not for jobs, higher wages, better prospects for minorities and middle-class families, infrastructure spending, a path to citizenship for immigrants and a safer nation — then what are they for? And if they do support those issues, then why wouldn't they work with the president to achieve them?
Their petulant performance at the State of the Union address provides mighty poor optics for Democrats, falling as it does between the humiliating defeat of the "Schumer shutdown" and the pending release of the House Intelligence Committee's memo — a document that may cast an even more unfavorable light on Democrats in the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
Democrats have been crowing for months about a "blue wave" in November. At this rate, they'll just be eating crow.