President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday evening, touting the job market and announcing plans for immigration reform and $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending before members of Congress.
On Wednesday, a leading political science professor and the chairs of Cobb’s Democratic and Republican parties weighed in on Trump’s address and what it could mean for the nation and the president’s approval ratings.
The commander-in-chief got an “A plus” from Cobb GOP chair Jason Shepherd, who called Trump’s speech one of the best State of the Union addresses he’s ever heard.
Trump received a “D” from Michael Owens, chairman of the Cobb County Democratic Party, who said just because Trump appeared “slightly more presidential” than usual didn’t mean he got his facts right.
Kerwin Swint, a political science professor and director of Kennesaw State University’s School of Government and International Affairs, gave the president an “A minus” for staying on message but getting a little too partisan at times.
Shepherd said he and 100 other Cobb Republicans held a watch party at GOP headquarters. He described an electric atmosphere where attendees stood and clapped along with the members of Congress on television.
“I think the speech was extremely well-received,” he said. “Several times we had standing ovations in the audience, especially when President Trump talked about standing for the national anthem.”
But Owens said one of the things the stood out most to him was the difference between “Twitter Trump” and “teleprompter Trump.”
“He portrays things the way he wants you to see them. Just because he’s president doesn’t mean they are necessarily true,” Owens said. “This was not the largest tax cut in history and (the economy) started to recover under President Obama.”
The tax bill Owens said, still disproportionately benefits the wealthy over the poor and the elderly.
“We can’t brag about any type of tax breaks when we’re not giving relief to those who need it the most,” he said.
Shepherd said the president delivered a strong, unifying message spurred on by his recent successes with the tax bill.
“He was speaking in Congress but he was really speaking to the American people — sending a message of unity, a message that he’s here in Washington to get things done,” Shepard said.
Owens took issue with the way Trump spoke about minority groups.
“He still wants to classify and label Hispanics in a disparaging manner,” he said, referring to Trump’s rhetoric on building a border wall. “How many times did he mention MS-13? They’re here throughout the U.S. whether or not we have any more immigration. No one can show a direct correlation between the number of people coming from central or South America and the growth of (organized gangs).”
Shepherd said Trump made “an extremely bold move” on immigration by offering a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought here as children.
“It’s an issue that doesn’t necessarily play well to his base, but he said in his speech that to get this going and actually get some reform, neither side is going to be happy with the final result,” Shepherd said. “And that’s the essence of a good compromise.”
As far as jobs are concerned, Cobb’s GOP chairman said the numbers speak for themselves.
“We are creating more jobs in this country (and) black unemployment levels are at the lowest they’ve ever been.” Shepherd said. “Unemployment, generally is at the lowest it’s been in decades and we’re seeing tremendous economic growth. Those numbers don’t lie.”
Swint said the president’s speech will likely boost his approval ratings, which have hovered in the 30s since he took office.
“I think we’ve already seen some evidence that it was, for the most part, well-received by most people,” Swint said. “I think it will inevitably help him in the short term, at least.”
But Swint said the speech likely wouldn’t do much to bridge a growing part divide.
“The divisions between Republicans and Democrats on the floor were stark,” he said. “Some stood, some sat on their hands — the stone-faced look on African-American representatives when he was talking about record-low unemployment (rates) is what stands out to me. There was a stark, stark contrast.”
Owens said the true test of Trump’s performance as president will come in the November mid-term elections.
“It will really depend, from a Democratic standpoint, how many seats we can win in the House and Senate,” he said. “That will be the true determinant of how successful his continued rhetoric is. If we flip some seats, I think Republicans will start to shy away from him as an asset.”