Posts Tagged ‘president’

State of the Union

February 5, 2020

Why Bother with State of the Union Spectacles?

President George Washington gave the first State of the Union address to the nation on January 8, 1790, in Federal Hall in New York City.  Last night, President Trump continued that tradition speaking from the well of the House of Representatives with a speech that lasted 78 minutes.

Clearly, the Democratic Party majority didn’t want him there. The speech, like all State of the Union speeches, was heavily choreographed and crafted. There is no Constitutional requirement that the State of the Union be delivered in person by the president. What was once a solemn but functional exchange between the branches of government has become more about political theater than it is about governing.

Some may wonder why every Congress and Administration continue the charade?  The answer is — as you might guess — political.


The Super Bowl of Earned Media 

The State of the Union is a unique opportunity for the president to speak to millions of viewers, unfiltered by the news media or partisan interpretations from the left and the right.  Commanding the attention of millions of people for one hour and 18 minutes unabated is otherwise a nearly impossible feat and costprohibitive for most candidates. The speech, which every news and broadcast channel carries, gives any president a massive opportunity, especially in an election year.

To a lesser extent, the opposition party enjoys a similar benefit in the form of their “Response to the State of the Union” broadcast immediately following the president’s speech.  This response offers the party out of power access to a smaller, but still massively concentrated audience, normally out of their reach. As such, it is equally calculated and choreographed with the right profiled speaker and poll-tested language, laying out the priorities of the opposition party rather than responding directly to the president. 


Image Management

Because the State of the Union amounts to one-wayclosely watched conversation that allows the president to present the best interpretation of his/her track record and vision for the future with uninterrupted clarity, presidents typically see a postState of the Union boost.  In 2019, a CNN poll found that 59-percent of viewers had a positive reaction to the address. Today, CBS News reported that the initial response from the speech found 97-percent of Republicans viewed the speech favorably, but more critically, 30-percent of Democrats and 82-percent of independents did as well. Whether presidents are facing a tight election or a tough legislative session ahead, any positive bump among independent and undecided voters represents significant boost to their party’s agenda.


Speaking Directly to Targeted Audiences 

From NASCAR dads to soccer moms or blue-collar voters and minority voters, every president is propelled to power by certain voting blocs. In the State of the Union, presidents seek to hold their base of support and expand it to other key groups. Administrations often use special guests that speak directly to the concerns, issues, and aspirations to both the tried-and-true voting blocs and the ones they would like to make closer inroads with before the next election.

President Trump demonstrated this last night by seizing the opportunity to present the human faces of his agenda. With guests ranging from an African American student seeking a better school to returning members of the military and paying homage to a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, Trump reached out to a broad crosssection of America for maximum electoral impact.



Watchers of the State of the Union speech might recognize that camera coverage routinely cuts a way to pan the Congressional chamber. Audience participation at the State of the Union is its own form of political communication. The imagery is filled with subtext that pundits in the mediate duly note and pontificate upon for days on end. This empowers both parties to either deliver a point or emphasize something the president has said. So, standing or sitting, both sides are speaking to the American public. However, last night was unique in that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s animated destruction of a copy of the speech presented to her by Trump stole the show and will be the lasting image that defines the Democrats response.

State of the Union speeches might not serve the direct functions of the past, but they continue to play a critical role in the governance of our nation. In a communications environment filled with fractionalized affinity media, tech platforms, and editorial punditry, these speeches can be rare moments of focus and clarity that can educate the electorate and shape the opinions that ultimately decide the future course of our nation.  

How is Trump surviving…and maybe even thriving?

January 28, 2020

There is little debate that the media coverage of President Trump (whether deserved or not) is 95% negative. Yet, despite this avalanche of hostility, the president’s approval ratings remain steady.

How is this possible?

To be sure, many elements are driving this outcome. Some are specific to Trump, such as the president’s personality, the fierce loyalty of his admirers, and not least, his willingness to explode established norms. Others, such as the hardening red-blue division and regional or class distinctions, reflect the cultural and economic realignment underway in America.

Below are five structural factors that merit specific mention as their relevance to public policy campaigns will continue well beyond the Trump presidency.





1. Weakened Mainstream Media Credibility
It is widely acknowledged that the 24-hour news cycle and the race to publish quickly has led to a decline in standards for news, both on the air or in print. The emotionally charged environment surrounding Trump has also led to some prominent instances of demonstrably biased reporting. The result is that more Americans lack trust in traditional media sources than ever before. At the same time, traditional outlets are forced to compete with many alternative news sources across all mediums. All these factors make it easier for the public to question the veracity of the latest “all caps” accusations and vastly harder for charges to gain currency with audiences not already predisposed to believe it.

2. Increased Consumption of Like-Minded News Sources
Increasingly, audiences are evaluating the validity of news coverage against the perceived worldview of the source and are placing a premium on those sources they feel reflect their own. As a result, there are now close to 20 center-right publications that attract at least one million visitors a month and reach an immense  audience across America. Among the top sites are, the Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, Newsmax, and Western Journalism. These outlets and many more like them have provided a strong counterbalance to mainstream attacks on the president. They often play a direct role in fueling skepticism of the latest bombshell revelations.

3. The Conservative Domination of Radio
Studies show that radio remains America’s leading megaphone, reaching over 240 million listeners each week. Talk radio persists as one of the top radio formats and continues to be dominated by conservative voices. Many of the biggest shows, such as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and others, are diehard Trump loyalists. These hosts spend hours each day defending the administration’s agenda and dissecting the media’s critiques point-by-point. With over 90-percent of the country listening to AM/FM radio, it has played a critical role for the administration in the battle for public approval.

4. The Rise of Social Media
It should come as no surprise that social media has outpaced newspapers as a source of news and information. These social networking sites, particularly Twitter, have allowed center-right decision-makers and analysts to cut through the mainstream media chatter and justify the president’s reasoning to supporters and prospective voters in real-time.  During the Mueller investigation, for instance, individual Twitter accounts like @UndercoverHuber, @TechnoFog, and @RedSteeze fact-checked news stories from the mainstream media. They highlighted discrepancies and countered stories, many of which were poorly sourced and, in some cases, later discredited. These three accounts alone have almost half a million followers and are often retweeted by the president and his 75 million followers. Their engagement often shifts public discussion as their analysis quickly finds their way onto Facebook and other social media platforms.

5. Crowdsourcing Rapid Response
Any time a new attack is launched, a veritable army swings into action researching sources, verifying information, and publishing critiques. By monitoring and engaging these outlets closely, the White House and Trump’s congressional defenders have been able to create a feedback loop. This feedback loop supplies them not only with information and arguments tailor-made for core audiences, but also a platform to respond and disseminate their own messaging to large swaths of the nation.

President Trump’s strategy has thus far proven remarkably effective at preventing the loss of existing support and has even shown a significant spill-over effect in influencing coverage that reaches far outside of his base. While the real impact of this strategy will be tested in this November’s election, the tactical methods that are being deployed by Team Trump reflect a changing media landscape that demands appreciation. Recognizing these transformations and developing a plan to harness them will be crucial to public policy battles long into the future.