On Tuesday evening, esteemed President Donald John Trump delivered a televised speech before both sections of Congress, where for almost an hour he managed to refrain from groping anyone or defecating his pants onstage. It was an impressive feat, for which he has received rare but effusive media praise.
But what does it mean? Trump’s own aides have been asking themselves this very question, reportedly confused at positive media coverage outpour. After all, he’s still the same man who was only able to ban Muslims from the country for a few days because judges kept ruling his order was illegal. He’s still the same President of the United States who suggested this week, after a spate of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, that perhaps the Jews are doing it to themselves. He’s still the same man with the same agenda and the same crippling, pathological need for approval, just now he’s also done one good speech.
But Trump doesn’t care about reviews done by haters and losers—he cares about numbers, and how those numbers compare to other people’s numbers. It’s interesting then, to see how his numbers stack up against, say, President Obama’s. The answer, to look at the headlines, depends on which one of Obama’s speeches you compare with Trump’s.
According to the Hollywood Reporter’s calculations, Trump pulled in about 43 million viewers across eight networks. That’s great, compared to Obama’s last State of the Union address, which drew only 31.3 million viewers.
But it’s disingenuous to compare Trump’s first address with Obama’s eighth, and if you compare his numbers with the numbers for Obama’s first speech (52.4 million), or Bill Clinton’s first speech (a whopping 66.9 million) our esteemed president failed miserably in the court of public opinion. Neither Obama nor Clinton ever saw ratings as high as their debut addresses—even during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Sex scandals, it turns out, don’t get people’s attention the way a national crisis does. Take George W. Bush, who pulled in 39.8 million viewers with his inaugural address and 62.1 million viewers in his 2003 State of the Union. He only had to go to war to Iraq to get people’s attention, and even then he couldn’t quite beat Clinton.