From the Left



The State of the Union

Susan Estrich on

The Republicans should be mortified. In fact, by all accounts, they are. Rolling Stone featured an entire article quoting their reactions to Alabama Sen. Katie Britt's embarrassing response to the president's State of the Union speech. Describing the speech as "feeling more like a rejected audition tape for a supporting role on 'Grey's Anatomy,'" delivered from a kitchen in Alabama, the magazine recounted being "inundated, sometimes completely unprompted, with messages from longtime GOP operatives, right-leaning pollsters, conservative Capitol Hill staff, MAGA lawyers, and even some senior members of Trump's own 2024 campaign absolutely torching Britt's absurdly overdramatic rebuttal." As Charlie Kirk tweeted, "Joe Biden just declared war on the American right and Katie Britt is talking like she's hosting a cooking show whispering about how Democrats 'don't get it.'"

In fact, it was Republicans who didn't get it. They remained glued to their chairs as the president called on his audience to stand up for a procedure that allows American women to choose life -- to stand up for reproductive freedom and IVF, in response to the justices from Katie Britt's home state. It was Joe Biden who looked straight at the justices from the United States Supreme Court and warned them of the political power that women will exercise in the next election. "With all due respect, justices, women are not without electoral and political power," he said. "You're about to find out just how much they have."

Indeed, the IVF decision has shifted the debate about Roe v. Wade and made clear how hypocritical the right is, boxing them in as being against those who are, often desperately, pro-life. This isn't about abortion, after all, but about reproductive freedom, which Republicans are stubbornly against.

Even Republicans were forced to acknowledge that Joe Biden was at his best. "I'll give Biden this -- he at least gave a better speech than Katie Britt," a national Republican consultant told Rolling Stone.

I'll give him more than that. He answered the question that even Democrats have been asking. Does he still have it in him to do this for four more years? Does he have the vigor?

The man on the podium on Thursday night does. For an hour, he commanded the audience and the nation. No stumbling. No shaking. He was forceful and articulate, very much the leader in control and the commander in chief.

When was the last time you saw Donald Trump in that role?


The general election campaign began last night. Up to now, to be sure, Biden and Trump have both been in the position of winning every Tuesday, but Biden has been running against no one. That doesn't really count. Trump had real opponents, which turned him into a real winner. That gave him momentum, the appearance of being on a roll, of triumph in a MAGA-esque sea of believers. The sea changes now. That contest is over.

This month, the winner becomes the defendant. The defendant in chief must take on the commander in chief; the man in the Oval Office goes up against the man sitting at the defense table every day addressing hush money payoffs to his mistress. During the primaries, Trump managed to use his courtroom appearances as he chose: coming when it suited him, lambasting his opponents, raising money from his base. The rules change in criminal trials. He must appear every day. He is facing financial troubles. He will lose the fundraising competition. The MAGA base can't compete with what Biden has been raising or will continue to raise. The steps of a courthouse compare poorly to the photo opportunities a president can command. The appeal of a whining victim flanked by a changing cast of lawyers is largely limited to the faithful. And with issues like hush money and posting bonds and paying E. Jean Carroll, not to mention surrogates like Katie Britt, Trump's ability to control the agenda is drastically limited.

Joe Biden needs more opportunities like Thursday night to show that he has the right stuff. But the State of the Union was an important step in reassuring Democrats and giving Republicans cause for worry about just what comes next.


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