Good night, my friends. As my 80-year-old dad used to say to his 80-year-old girlfriend every night as they retired to their separate bedrooms, "We'll try 'er again tomorrow, Betty."
"Our country is a mess." —Everybody
I missed it, but apparently Pelosi ripped the speech in half. A Republican friend tells me he's "embarrassed by all of them. We all are … must be better than they make us look and feel." If this is the most conciliatory thing a Trump voter can say these days, a Democrat must at least appreciate the effort, however insufficient may seem.
Blitzer calls it "a very strong speech." He is not a cipher. He is the cipher.
I have become a transparent eyeball.
Yes. Yes it could.
Could this be any more manipulative or exploitative?
Are we going to go through all the amendments?
And if Rush prepared us for Trump, this guy prepared us for Mitch.
You gotta admit, that's one tragic example.
Holy balls. Back to bourbon. (Limbaugh acts shocked, but this has been in the news for hours. A characteristically disingenuous display. Rush, thanks: More than anyone else, you prepared us for Trump; we had a quarter century of you; why are we acting so shocked?)
"Game of Thrones," texts the reefer-aided Suburban Republican. (Apparently they were chanting HR3, for the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now act, now sitting in the Senate.)
Moderate Republican friend (teetotaler): "Did Trump just start handing out prizes to the audience like this is an episode of Ellen???"
Is that the first time Pelosi actually shook her head or have I been missing it?
"The people are the heart of our country." As Jim Thorpe said, "Thanks, King."
That ceramic guy on the left looks like a big Space Force supporter.
Trade is one issue on which Trump has an actual consistent theory of the case. You can tell, by the way he talks about it and the way he acts on it. He has integrity on the issue. You can hear it.
Tony from Cincinnati is a Trump Skutnik—not an American hero to celebrate, but a beneficiary of largesse to be displayed like a human trophy. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
A speechwriter pal writes, "Pelosi looks like me at synagogue on Yom Kippur… flipping to the end and counting pages until it’s over. “Ooh, only 23 pages to go.”'
The State of the Union—comic book version. WHAMMO! POW! BLAP!
The Republicans are CHARGED UP!
All clapping, no handshaking.
Limbaugh looks like Carlin, and everybody else looks like Limbaugh.
Pence to Pelosi: "This is the hour of lead. Remembered if outlived, As freezing persons recollect the snow—First chill, then stupor, then the letting go."
Limbaugh is looking a little like … George Carlin?
A Democrat friend, on Facebook:
Scott reminded me tonight why he’s the best person in the world. He, a complete news junkie, announced he would not listen to The State of the Union speech as it was being delivered by a lying sack of shit.
I love my husband.
Pelosi and Pence look like they're reaching for the language of inclusion, and coming up empty.
I think David Axelrod just said Trump tonight is going to use "the language of inclusion." That's going to sound about as natural as me using "the language of Chinese."
Now we're all fixed on the door, waiting for the president to come out. This is likely the last time we'll all be on the same page tonight. A Suburban Republican Friend (SRF) informs me, "If you need help with your analysis I plan to get high as a kite before I watch Donald. Should make it understandable." He promises to send dispatches as they come to him. I'll pass along what I think you can handle.
Newsweek reports that Rush Limbaugh, who yesterday announced that he has advanced lung cancer, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and attend the SOTU tonight at the President's invitation. That should be emotional, for pretty much everybody. A different kind of Lenny Skutnik, in any case.
Timing my buzz for the SOTU chatter to begin, but last night's Iowa primary results are rolling in instead.
A onetime Senate speechwriter emails, "It would take a lot more than whatever you are drinking to watch SOTU tonight. The Rs have said a president can lie, openly and secretly solicit foreign interference in our elections, withhold documents and witnesses from Congress and it doesn’t matter."
I told him that tonight I'm drinking tea.
Which I totally will.
When I've decided I've had enough bourbon.
I've been wondering who could handle this … well, ever since 2016, when somebody at the Trump campaign Googled "teleprompter" and stumbled on to Perez, who has become a snake charmer to a speaker who listens with is tongue:
The president’s speeches … may begin with pre-written policy points, but will inevitably swerve into talk of windmills, dip into jocular opinions on light bulbs, corkscrew into savage commentary on immigration, then free-fall into musings on news of the day. Throughout the turbulence, Perez must listen closely to scroll through pre-written script, then pause and recalibrate when the president chooses to go in a different direction.
And we so often see that when Trump finishes a riff, he returns comfortably to the teleprompter for another reliable platform from which to jump next.
Trump will ad lib less and read more tonight, but that doesn't make Perez's job any easier, because with 50 million people watching, "Perez will likely have to navigate up to 100 applause breaks that constantly threaten to disrupt the speech’s flow."
Stephen Miller praises Perez for not having been shit-canned in all this time.
“He’s been seamless in his performance and he’s outlasted multiple chiefs of staff, and so he’s doing something right,” Miller told Politico.
Maybe Perez should become the next chief of staff.
As editor of Vital Speeches and presumed master of all things speechwriting, I'm a bit overwhelmed with the number of speeches I'm supposed to be keeping track of, just yesterday and today.
My phone started blowing up yesterday, with a text from a friend alerting me to what seems like the sixth closing argument by Adam Schiff. My friend, who is not a speechwriter, dubbed Schiff's speech, "the renewal and resurrection of American political oratory." So I figured I had to watch it.
Just like you, I wish the orator put me less in mind of Ichabod Crane.
But whatever your political point of view, if you can't appreciate the muscularity, variety and clarity of this rhetoric, then Speechwriting Nation is finally divided, too.
I went to bed early last night, and woke up to a text from another pal, also not a speechwriter, who had been waiting in vain for the Iowa results that didn't come. But the speeches had been written, and had to be given. "Five victory speeches in one night seems like it should be some kind of record," my friend wrote. He thought Warren's was the best.
And as I gear up for tonight's SOTU, I'm distracted by today's medley of speeches by senators explaining their impeachment trial decisions to befuddled future historians.
It's only noon, and my neck hurts.
The most pressing question I have about the State of the Union Address tonight is what am I going to drink during my annual SOTU live-blog, and how much of it will I need to carry me through.
Over the past few days, we've learned that President Trump doesn't plan to address the impeachment trial in his State of the Union Address tonight; rather, he will blandly "pivot" to deliver the first formal speech of his reelection campaign. In the presidential style he parodies at his own rallies, Trump will deliver a list of highlights that promises to be even more tedious than the usual list of highlights.
The theme will be, the "Great American Comeback."
We've also learned that the SOTU was "assembled" by a couple of nameless scriveners named Vince Haley and Ross Worthington, according to The New York Times. The money graphs of the Times story:
Mr. Trump believes he is his own best communicator, so in his administration, the job of speechwriter is not a high-profile “Hemingway” role, as it was under his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who actually bestowed that nickname on one of his writers, Cody Keenan. The job belongs to the president.
“The president is a best-selling author and deeply gifted orator who packs arenas and has a meticulous and carefully honed method for writing his speeches,” Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said in a statement, “whether it be at a rally, a manufacturing plant opening or the State of the Union. What the American people hear is 100 percent President Trump’s own words.”
In this White House, writing his speech is a job best done anonymously, and by all accounts, Mr. Haley and Mr. Worthington understand that.
“They really have a deep feeling that the more anonymous they are, they’re probably better off,” Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and former boss of both men, said in an interview.
Haley, 53, and Worthington, 31, work for senior White House advisor Stephen Miller, and their main contribution, artfully described by the Times, is "adding historical sweep to Mr. Trump's annual speeches and funneling ideas from across the administration into cohesive drafts."
In short, they add context and coherence—which is what speechwriters have always done for the SOTU. Especially when contrasted against the celebrity Obama White House speechwriters—even half-hearted D.C. news hounds could all rattle off a half-dozen of their names off the top of our heads—Haley and Worthington are "pleasant and chill people," with "a low resting heart rate," Federalist publisher Ben Domenech told The Times.
Now, Trump White House officials shouldn't lie and say the speech is 100 percent Trump's own words, because that jeopardizes their ironclad credibility.
But I don't think it's incumbent on a White House to tell reporters chapter and verse how a speech got drafted, and I don't think it's usually smart for speechwriters to submit to newspaper profiles, which usually either portray them as Cyranos, or Rob Lowes. Ted Sorensen was as close to JFK as any speechwriter ever was to a president, and whenever queried about who wrote history's most famous inaugural address, Sorensen to his dying day said, "Ask not."
But when you tell me I'm about to hear a State of the Union speech at this traumatic moment in our national history that was cobbled together by unassuming somnambulists—well, I do understand what a former White House speechwriter wrote to me yesterday: "Am I a bad speechwriter—teacher—so-called expert if I have no desire to watch SOTU? I mean zero desire."
Let's see, how did I get up for the SOTU last year? Oh yes, now I remember.