Consider that this speech touts its recent successes in passing "tax relief" that has brought home however-many billions of dollars into the pockets of American workers, families, and businesses. Not to mention its successes in "pursuing the enemies of freedom" with its military, particularly in the Muslim world.
Consider the president asking the Congress, on the basis of those past successes, to take it to the next level going forward -- after cutting taxes, to privatize Social Security, and after helping millions of Iraqis to vote in free elections, to stand behind our military as they push ever further into that country to secure these newly won freedoms. Cut to: family members of an American soldier killed in the Middle East during this project.
Consider the speech's tough-but-fair proposal on immigration that reads:
Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.
And consider that the president is speaking to a Congress controlled by his own party in both chambers, a seemingly invincible force.
Folks, we're not considering Trump's speech from last night -- but the SOTU speech of George W. Bush from 2006, which did in fact poll very well.
But by that fall, Bush supporters were given a rude awakening about the lasting influence of speeches. In a wave election, the GOP lost control of both the House and the Senate, as well as the majority of governorships. In the next presidential election, the party would get wiped out so bad that even "safe" states like Indiana and North Carolina would fall to the rival party.
How could that have happened? I thought Bush had EXPOSED THE DEMONRATS as the party that opposed American workers getting billions of dollars dumped into their pockets from tax cuts. I thought he had painted them into a rhetorical corner, where they were now the party advocating cowardice and abdication of responsibilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. I thought he had given so bipartisan and aspirational of a message, that he mortally branded them as the party of obstructionist killjoys if they objected to his agenda.
The persuasion framing was win-win -- either they surrender, or they struggle against your agenda and make themselves hated by all. The rhetorical figure-four leglock was impossible for them to escape from!
In fairness, the same could be said of Obama's uplifting bipartisan SOTU speeches -- touting recent successes as a way to ask for near-term goals -- delivered right before his party lost the House and the governorships, then the Senate, then even the White House.
And of course, sometimes these predictably, uniformly well-received speeches precede electoral gains rather than losses.
The elites will never internalize this lesson, but quite simply: culture does not matter, only the cold hard fundamental material conditions. Speeches, framing, branding -- rhetoric in general -- has no impact on an audience that views politicians merely as agents to implement a set of agenda items that they were elected to carry out, rather than as performers to make them feel good in unison with other feel-gooders.
Below the elite level, people are too concerned with the basic layers of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, not the higher ones like a sense of cultural belonging. They don't discount the higher layers, they're just too preoccupied with a precarious material situation. Polarizing "hot-button" culture war issues only play out among well-to-do voters, whereas low and even middle-income voters are concerned strictly with material welfare (see the work of Andrew Gelman and colleagues).
Predictive models of presidential elections, like that of Allan Lichtman, do not include cultural variables but things like the direction of the economy, success or failure in foreign policy, major legislative achievements, division vs. cohesion within the incumbent party, and so on. The only non-material variable is whether the politician is charismatic, which is more of a personality trait than an aspect of his logic and rhetoric in speeches.
So, enough already with devoting so much attention to speeches, branding, and messaging, whether they're coming from Trump or anyone else. No one cares about them, and they are immediately forgotten. All the voters care about is whether or not the incumbent party can deliver the goods that they were promised in exchange for electoral support.
Partisan Republicans may have voted for Trump in order to enjoy tax cuts, see conservatives nominated to the courts, and stand behind the generals as they send more Americans into Afghanistan.
But the Independents and cross-over Democrats (largely Bernie supporters), who barely put Trump over-the-top in a handful of Obama-voting states, are still waiting to see those major changes that were supposed to break the GOP away from its zombie-Reagan program of cutting taxes, deregulation, widening trade deficits, and soaring military budgets.
All inside sources are saying that Trump is in fact softening on protectionist trade measures, for the personal reason that he feels that they would threaten the stock market boom that he has hitched his wagon to, and more importantly for the institutional reason that the sectors of the economy that control the GOP (like manufacturing, energy, and agriculture) would rather assassinate Trump than see him terminate NAFTA or slam tariffs on foreign steel used to build pipelines for oil and gas.
These are the major legislative or executive items that they will be judging the incumbent party on in 2020 (and even in 2018). There will be no foreign policy successes since the military is hell-bent on antagonizing the major regional and global powers in the Middle East, where we have only ever lost, and perhaps provoking North Korea into attacking us after the generals' "bloody nose" strategy. The economy does not go on for 12 years without a major correction, especially when the finance sector that controls the out-of-power party can pop the biggest ugliest bubble in world history and pin the blame on its rival party. And the fragmentation of the incumbent party will only get worse as the occasional attempts by Trump to re-align the party only expose and hammer on the faultlines within the GOP that resists his re-alignment, relating to immigration, trade, war, and Russia / NATO.
For the Bernie wing of the Democrats who will be taking on the GOP in the mid-terms and especially the next presidential election, it is only these kinds of things that candidates should focus on. Hillary screamed "racist" and "sexist" and "xenophobic" until she was blue in the face -- and still lost! Culture schmulture. Focus instead on undoing the corporate and military empires that are ruining our once great nation.