Will tonight be the night that President Donald Trump finally becomes the President of the United States?
That’s the question talking heads in the big three cable newsrooms will again seek to answer this evening, as Trump delivers his first State of the Union.
It’s his most scrutinized speech since he addressed a joint session of Congress last year at the dawn of his first term in office — and delivered a speech so uncontroversial that he actually received decent praise from the media.
Of course, who could really blame the press for that? Pundits had been subjected to over two years of candidate-Trump belching out quasi-sensical declarations outlining his incredibly controversial agenda, before his presidency kicked off with an inauguration speech that could have been penned by a screenwriter for The Purge.
With “American Carnage” in his rearview, Trump’s administration stumbled through the botched rollout of his heartless immigration ban, and by the end of February, pundits were aching for a counter narrative. And against all odds, Trump managed to string enough uncontroversial words together into coherent sentences to provide one.
Nearly one year later, the expectations are likely higher. Trump has yet to truly “pivot” — excuse the pundit-speak — but he has proven that he’s capable of reading a neutered speech off a teleprompter. The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers wrote last year that the response to the joint address to Congress demonstrated that “Trump’s bar is practically subterranean, and the media grades him on a curve.” Nearly a year later, Trump’s bar is probably a few inches off the ground — high enough that it’s unlikely his speech will get rave reviews, but low enough that uttering the word “unity” a few times will earn him plaudits.
So how will the big three cable networks react to his first State of the Union? Let’s take a look.
The network of choice for The Resistance™ is bringing out the big guns for Trump’s first State of the Union: Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams are co-anchoring the special-coverage, with help from Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, Nicolle Wallace, Joy Reid, Steve Schmidt and Eugene Robinson.
That lineup, when compared to Fox News and CNN’s, is perhaps the least likely to fall for Trump’s expected pivot-to-unity.
Matthews has already pointed out that it will be hard for Trump to preach conciliation given how divisive he has been as president, and it’s not even 9 p.m.
My bet? One of the anchors will remind viewers repeatedly that it is incoherent for Trump to call for unity with a party he has said is complicit in the murders committed by undocumented immigrants. And we all know Steve Schmidt is in the MSNBC studio tonight for one reason, and one reason only: to provide theatrical orations decrying Trump as a spray-tan stain on America’s institutions.
No matter how optimistic and unifying Trump’s SOTU speech is, expect it to be treated with a heavy dose of skepticism from the MSNBC anchors and commentators. I don’t care if John Kelly stuffed Stephen Miller in a West Wing locker and hired Jon Favreau to write Trump’s speech, the MSNBC crew is still going to hate it.
Unlike rival MSNBC, CNN actually makes a decent effort to maintain an (ever-shrinking) bevy of pro-Trump contributors on its payroll. For tonight’s event, former Trump campaign adviser Dave Urban will be on call, as well as former Republican Senator and reliable Trump linebacker Rick Santorum. Expect them to gush.
But we might also get some Trump-loving from an unlikely source: Van Jones, who will provide analysis throughout the night. The Obama adviser-turned-commentator had a surprising reaction to Trump’s emotional honoring of the widow of a slain Navy SEAL in his 2017 speech to Congress.
“He became President of the United States in that moment, period,” Jones said during a CNN panel after the speech, which you can watch above. “That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics.”
Of course, Jones faced some pretty hefty mockery for his remarks, so he may opt to temper his hots for Trump this time around.
Anchors Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper are leading CNN’s special coverage of the evening, so expect plenty of fact-checking to rain on Trump’s parade of boasts about the booming economy.
If you’re feeling glum about the State of the Union in Trump’s America, I would normally suggest you tune into Fox News for tonight’s speech. Even at times during his tumultuous first year when it seemed the president couldn’t help but pour gasoline on everything around him and then take to it with a flamethrower, Fox News’s primetime anchors spun normalcy out of the madness.
But don’t expect the network’s live coverage of this year’s State of the Union to be too nauseating, as it’s being handled by Fox News’s newsiest bunch: Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are leading primetime coverage, with analysis from a sober cast that includes Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt. Even Trump-skeptic Juan Williams and Democrat-behind-enemy-lines Marie Harf are along for the ride.
So if it’s unbridled Trump-fawning you’re looking for, you might just have to stay up until 11 p.m. for Sean Hannity’s special SOTU episode — featuring none other than young MAGA prince Don Jr. If you’re asleep by then, fear not. Fox & Friends has you covered from 6 a.m. tomorrow morning.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.