I honestly have no idea how most of Donald Trump’s supporters throughout America reacted to his State of the Union address last night. Maybe they loved it. Maybe they thought he threw too many bones to the Democrats. Frankly it’s very hard, and probably impossible, for me to get inside their heads.
But it’s a lot easier to judge how members of the GOP who were in the House chamber felt about the speech. It was right there for all of us to see on TV. And the overwhelming sense I got was that they didn’t like much of what they heard. In fact, I can’t remember a State of the Union address that was so tepidly received by members of the president’s own party.
Sure, there were moments when GOP lawmakers stood and applauded vigorously, at a few points even chanting “USA! USA!” But those occasions were remarkably few. And I don’t recall the cheering from the GOP side of the aisle ever being sustained and energetic. Instead, time after time, Trump’s crafted rhetoric and policy proposals were met with pro forma standing and limp clapping from Republicans, whose facial expressions alternated between polite nodding and cringing discomfort. In the cutaways to Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader was conspicuously restrained, even for him. The section on trade was, not surprisingly, poorly received by GOP members. The parts about pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria were met with crickets. And what struck me as most significant was the awkward near-silence with which Republicans greeted Trump’s bizarre warning that the economy would be jeopardized by “investigations.”
I know that Democrats have been beside themselves with fury at the craven willingness of congressional Republicans to support and enable Trump over the past two years. I share that feeling. But if you live in Washington and interact with professional Republicans, as I do on occasion, you know that nine out of ten can’t abide the man. Few of them will say say so publicly, and that reticence will probably continue, at least for a while. But last night they gave themselves away. In their demeanor and body language, Washington Republicans let us know that they know they are completely and utterly screwed—and that the next two years are going to be miserable for them.