• Politics

Why the State of the Union Mattered

6 minute read

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama sought to highlight the accomplishments under his seven years in office, beginning a year of “lasts” and starting his victory lap as he prepares to hand over the White House to his successor. With a message designed for the American public and short on the legislative specifics that traditionally clutter these addresses, Obama sought to speak to his legacy, calling on Americans to think in generational terms when they consider his record and what remains to be accomplished. The pared-down agenda was as much a reflection of his inability to convince Congress to pass his agenda as it was an attempt to put a glossy coat on his time in office. Much of Obama’s address was also a direct rebuke to Donald Trump, criticizing his comments on Muslims and making the case for a rosier assessment of American greatness than the GOP front-runner. Trump, meanwhile, called the address “boring” and “lethargic” in a tweet.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley used her response to offer a contrasting vision of Republican leadership than Trump in a strategy organized by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who is worried about the effect of the tumultuous primary—and its bombastic leader—on the party’s brand. Highlighting her leadership after the Charleston shooting last year, Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, defended immigration and called for “respect” for “modern families.” And acknowledging both parties are to blame for Washington’s dysfunction, she urged voters not to be fooled by the “noise” that often dominates politics. Her address drew plaudits from Democrats and establishment Republicans, but some condemnation from conservatives and those backing Trump for being too amenable.

For months, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has hugged Trump after every controversial comment and attack, but no longer. Amid Trump leading a round of questioning his eligibility for the presidency, Cruz is firing back, declaring Tuesday on a radio show that Trump—with whom he is tied in polls in Iowa—”embodies New York values.” The catch-all criticism speaks both to Trump’s drama-filled personal life as well as his policy agenda. Cruz also echoed Jeb Bush‘s criticism from last year to criticize Trump’s seeming lack of knowledge of the nuclear triad in the last Republican debate, saying the next president can’t just get their information from television shows. The ending of the truce comes as Trump has mounted something of a comeback in Iowa, after Cruz took a lead in the polls last month, and just two days before the next GOP debate, where this drama can explode on primetime.

Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, released its most-personal attack yet on rival Marco Rubio, mocking the Florida Senator’s choice in boots and blasting him for flip-flopping. The song-and-dance routine proclaims that Rubio “ain’t earned it yet” — reflecting the Bush camp’s view that Rubio is an inexperienced usurper, but also playing into Rubio’s attempt to brand himself as anti-establishment in efforts to win over frustrated voters. Bush himself has released a new ad airing in New Hampshire on drug addiction.

After months of ignoring Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton is stepping up her critique of the Vermont lawmaker who consistently leads her in New Hampshire and now had tied her in Iowa. Casting him as a single-issue candidate, Clinton is assailing him on his record on guns, while arguing that he would be unelectable in a general election. A new television ad in New Hampshire warns against the dangers of Republicans, while declares her the only person who could take them on in November.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have differing views on Donald Trump’s chances. Cruz makes some establishment friends. And the Ben Carson super PACs buys its candidates’ books.

Here are your must-reads:

Must Reads

How Obama Used His Final State of the Union to Discredit Trump
TIME’s Philip Elliott on Obama’s rejection of Trump’s message

GOP Seeks to Sideline Trump in State of the Union Response
Nikki Haley offers GOP another path [TIME]

Hillary Clinton Tries to Corner Bernie Sanders on Gun Control
Sanders struggles to explain his position, TIME’s Sam Frizell reports

Here’s the Most Unorthodox Idea from the State of the Union
TIME’s Haley Sweetland Edwards on Obama’s call for wage insurance

Obama Puts Terrorism in Perspective in State of the Union
But when it comes to being scared, fear trumps facts, TIME’s Mark Thompson writes

Ted Cruz Begins to Sharpen his Response to Donald Trump
Ending their détente [CBS]

Cruz Starts to Crack G.O.P. Establishment’s Wall of Opposition
Winning over backers among the haters [New York Times]

Sound Off

“The message that Donald Trump’s putting out has had adherence a lot of times during the course of our history. You know, talk to me if he wins. Then we’ll have a conversation about how responsible I feel about it.” — President Obama in an interview with NBC Tuesday downplaying Donald Trump’s chances at the presidency

“Yes, I think it’s possible.” — Vice President Joe Biden on a Trump presidency, breaking with his boss in his own interview with NBC

Bits and Bites

Jeb! Allies Slam Marco Rubio For Alleged Boot Heels Flip Flop [TIME]

Read the Full Transcript of Obama’s Final State of the Union [TIME]

Obama Takes the Blame for Failing to Change Washington [TIME]

President Obama Again Turns to Lincoln in State of the Union [TIME]

State of the Union: The Bizarre Moments You Didn’t See on Camera [Politico]

Cruz Camp Tests Lines of Attack on Trump [RealClearPolitics]

Ryan Spokesman Busts Obama Aide for Taking Picture on House Floor [The Hill]

New Attack Ads Call Marco Rubio a Flip-Flopper on Immigration [New York Times]

Carson Super PAC Spends $277,000 on Pro-Carson Books [Politico]

In GOP State of the Union Responses, Different Messages in English and Spanish on Immigration [Miami Herald]

More Must-Reads from TIME

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