President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night and one of the goals simply had to be to stick to the script.
His team and speechwriters spent countless hours crafting an address to highlight economic successes during his first year in office while surely avoiding issues that are giving the White House fits (I counted one brief mention of Russia). With so much on the line for President Trump and for Republicans leading into the midterm elections, Republican leaders and those in Trump’s inner-circle were inevitably hoping he’d stick to the teleprompter—a Hippocratic oath, of sorts, to “do no harm.”
On that goal alone—not analyzing policy or politics here, but simply the speech itself—Donald Trump succeeded.
Since announcing his candidacy roughly two-and-a-half years ago now (time flies, right?), Trump and the teleprompter have had a love/hate relationship—he’s loved not using it and he appears to hate when it’s in front of him.
As someone who’s spent plenty of time writing scripts, ad-libbing and reading off of a teleprompter, I decided to keep track of when President Trump interjected his own comments during the speech that lasted for an hour and 20 minutes. While I’m sure I missed a couple along the line, I counted fewer than 20 interjections from the president:
- 9:10 p.m. A scripted beginning of, “Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President…”
- 9:14 p.m. “Thank you to David [Dahlberg] and the brave people of California—thank you.” (in reference to the U.S. Forest Service member who saved lives during the Whittier wildfire in July)
- 9:15 p.m. “I think they like you, Steve…” (a follow-up to the standing ovation for Rep. Steve Scalise (R, LA), who was shot and survived in June)
- 9:18 p.m. “Tremendous number…” (in reference to the number of new manufacturing jobs, stated to be 200,000)
- 9:18 p.m. “It’s something I’m very proud of…” (a lead-in to stats on African-American unemployment numbers)
- 9:22 p.m. “A lot more!” (in reference to the take home pay of Americans following the recent tax cut)
- 9:23 p.m. “Thank heavens…” (a quick ad-lib after saying that The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is now gone)
- 9:26 p.m. “And he’s a great welder—I was told that by the man who owns that company…” (in reference to Corey Adams, a welder who became a first-time homeowner in 2017)
- 9:31 p.m. “Great future…” (in reference to Preston Sharp, a young man who has organized the placement of more than 40,000 American flags and carnations on soldiers’ graves)
- 9:37 p.m. “… and that’s what’s happening… it’s all coming back.” (in reference to getting more manufacturing in Detroit “Motor City”)
- 9:41 p.m. “… and prices will come down substantially—watch!” (in reference to lower prescription drug prices)
- 9:44 p.m. “… and we can do it.” (in reference to a fix for the infrastructure deficit)
- 9:54 p.m. “He goes by DJ or CJ… He said, call me either one. So we’ll call you CJ…” (in reference to Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent Celestino Martinez)
- 9:55 p.m. “And I have to tell you, what the Border Patrol and ICE have done—we have sent thousands and thousands and thousands of MS-13, horrible people out of this country or into our prisons. So I just want to congratulate you, CJ. You are a brave guy. Thank you very much.”
- 10:03 p.m. “Never before has it been like it is now. It’s terrible. We have to do something about it.” (in reference to the ongoing opioid epidemic)
- 10:19 p.m. “… and a great student he was.” (in reference to the late Otto Warmbier, arrested in North Korea in 2016)
- 10:30 p.m. “Thank you, everybody. Great job, great job.”
With that, it’s time for the Democratic response and several hours of screaming pundits on cable news. Tomorrow, the sun will rise and the President will surely take to Twitter (maybe he has already in the :15 minutes I’ve been writing this), but tonight for a brief moment, President Trump showed he can stick to the script.
Jason Fechner is longtime television news anchor, reporter and producer, now enjoying his sabbatical as a public relations and communications consultant. Follow him on Twitter @jasonfechner.