President Trump relishes the State of the Union address as an enduring television spectacle, and Tuesday’s edition had plenty in common with high-quality reality TV.
There was audience participation, including a spontaneous round of the birthday song for an octogenarian Holocaust survivor (even Mr. Trump was caught by surprise). And there was a celebrity cameo, thanks to the astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
By night’s end, the show had generated a Tumblr’s worth of GIF-able moments — not least the visage of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, whose frowns, furrowed brows and occasional smiles functioned as a real-time guide to liberals’ feelings about the speech.
Viewers even had a chance to meet the contestants for the upcoming season: The room abounded with prospective 2020 contenders, who seemed highly aware of their place on the prime-time stage. Aides to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York quickly distributed a memorable image of the senator in the chamber, looking skeptical. “She already sent out a tweet raising money on that eyeroll,” the Fox News anchor Bret Baier noted dryly.
The networks hustled to gin up suspense before the speech, which Lester Holt of NBC described as “under the shadow of another possible shutdown.” Margaret Brennan of CBS declared that “the state of our union is in limbo.” Jonathan Karl on ABC noted that “the majority of Democrats would not applaud as the president came in the chamber. That is just something you do not see in a State of the Union address.”
The postgame analysis fell along the usual lines. On Fox News, the pundit Brit Hume declared that “people may remember this one,” and the host Laura Ingraham called the speech “pretty pragmatic — a lot for people on both sides of the aisle to really love.” Simultaneously, Van Jones of CNN called the speech “psychotically incoherent, with cookies and dog poop,” and on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow expressed horror that Mr. Trump had suggested that the investigations into his administration were hurting efforts at peace. “Deeply uncomfortable,” Ms. Maddow said.
One ideological outlier was Rick Santorum, the former Republican senator, who on CNN called it “probably the worst-delivered speech I’ve seen Donald Trump give.” Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” host, said that Mr. Trump’s address “was quite effective as the opening speech for the 2020 campaign; I don’t believe it’s an especially effective speech in terms of trying to make legislative progress in 2019.”
Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor who parted ways with NBC last month after a rocky tenure as a “Today” host, commented on the proceedings on Twitter, weighing in on Senator Ted Cruz’s facial hair (“he looks good w/it”) and whether the president had snubbed Kim Kardashian when he introduced a woman whose commutation she had encouraged. (“She deserved a shout-out,” Ms. Kelly wrote.)
As for the star, Mr. Trump offered up apocalyptic warnings about immigrant violence, sending fact checkers into a scramble. “There are certainly a lot of facts to check, which we will be doing over the course of the next several hours, and probably the next several days,” said the CNN host Anderson Cooper.
Mr. Trump also had to think on his feet, especially during a moment when female members of Congress — dressed in suffragist white to protest the president’s policies affecting women, and gathered in one section of the House chamber in perhaps the broadcast’s most memorable visual element — burst into applause after the president praised the rate of female employment. (“The biggest unity came in an inadvertent moment,” George Stephanopoulos of ABC said afterward.)
Briefly flummoxed, Mr. Trump smiled and quickly recovered. “Don’t sit yet,” he ad-libbed to the group. “You’re going to like this!”
He then noted that the new Congress has a record number of women, drawing another ovation.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump was in good spirits with the television anchors who joined him for a private lunch at the White House, an annual tradition. Over salad and chicken — Mr. Trump took his dressing on the side — the president laced into his political opponents, although he praised the political skills of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, whom he referred to by her nickname, “A.O.C.”
The lunch was off-the-record, but multiple people in the room described the president’s remarks. At one point, according to one of the people, Mr. Trump warned the anchors not to leak the proceedings.
He added, “I guess it’s a group of reporters. You can’t keep a secret.”