After President Trump's first speech to a joint session of Congress last year, CNN commentator Van Jones told viewers that Trump “became president of the United States in that moment.”
On Tuesday, after Trump's first official State of the Union address, Jones offered a much darker appraisal: “He was selling sweet-tasting candy with poison in it.”
Jones is not the only disillusioned observer who thought Trump might have pushed a reset button but now appears unconvinced that the president will change his style, even after another on-script performance in the House chamber.
The Boston Globe's James Pindell wrote last year that “in many ways, it was the long-awaited pivot that Trump has always promised. This was unlike any other speech we have seen from Trump: He was disciplined, didn't veer much at all from the script and hit his marks.”
During Trump's speech on Tuesday, Pindell tweeted that the president's remarks contained “nothing new at all” and added that the State of the Union address “no longer matters.”
Reuters's Steve Holland and Jeff Mason wrote in 2017 that Trump “appeared to look for a reset” and “set aside disputes with Democrats and the news media to deliver his most presidential performance to date.”
On Tuesday, Holland and Mason wrote that “whether Trump would follow through on his appeal for bipartisan harmony was far from clear. Trump’s past attempts at a unifying message have been undermined by his later rancorous tweets and divisive statements that angered Democrats and frequently annoyed lawmakers in his own Republican Party.”
You get the idea. Trump had been president for barely a month when he addressed the nation in February. The sample size was so small that it was at least conceivable that his well-reviewed speech might signal a shift away from the hyperpartisan tone that had characterized his campaign.
Now, however, the sample is big enough that any thought of a pivot seems laughable. Trump has shown over and over that he can be presidential, in the conventional sense, for brief moments but always reverts to what he calls “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.” That's how Trump describes his Twitter habit, which, as Holland and Mason noted, often undermines his unifying messages.
Trump's 2017 speech is a prime example: He delivered the address on a Tuesday. On Thursday, he tweeted that Democrats “have lost their grip on reality” and then, on Saturday, he tweeted a false accusation that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential race.
Trump as candidate, Republican nominee, president-elect and president is the same person. The media seems to have abandoned the notion that he might change.