How Biden claimed Republican terrain: His clever State of the Union speech

Republicans, thanks to former President Donald Trump, have completely ceded the ground the Grand Old Party used to proudly own.

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President Joe Biden gestures, applauded by Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, as he delivers his first State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Saul Loeb/pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden, a longtime presidential hopeful, has waited decades to give a State of the Union address, and by all accounts it went off without a hitch.

There were history-making moments, and many others that were jarring, disorienting and downright surreal.

Here we are, in 2022, in the midst of what might be a new Cold War, with Vladimir Putin’s tanks rolling into a sovereign nation as Biden spoke.

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Few in the House chamber were wearing masks, finally showing faces that had gone covered for nearly two years.

But nothing was more surreal than the complete role reversal two major American political parties have undergone in just a few short years.

If you’d been living on a deserted island the last 20 years and were dropped into Biden’s speech last night, you might have assumed we still had a Republican president.

From his anti-Russia bombast to his “fund the police” rallying cry, the Democratic president made little effort to hide from what has traditionally been considered conservative territory.

That’s because he didn’t have to. Republicans, thanks to former President Donald Trump, have completely ceded the ground that the Grand Old Party used to proudly own.

Start with Russia. Unlike Trump, who spent much of his presidency defending and envying Putin, Biden’s been tough on the Russian leader from day one, acknowledging what the rest of the world already knows: that he’s a bad guy, a dictator, no one to admire.

So unlike Trump, he was on solid ground to denounce him Tuesday night on the world stage, boasting, “We countered Russia’s lies with the truth.”

Then there’s NATO. Traditionally heralded by the GOP — from its first Republican supporter Sen. Arthur Vandenberg to its first commander Dwight Eisenhower to perhaps its strongest proponent Ronald Reagan — Trump had little affection or use for the international body. He tried numerous times to leave NATO — something Putin would have loved.

So, last night, when Biden promised “The United States and our allies will defend every inch of territory that is NATO territory … every single inch …” it was as much a rebuke of Trump and return to Reagan as it was a message for Putin.

Moving on to the economy, no issue has animated movement conservatives more over the decades than lowering the debt and deficit.

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But it was Biden last night who not only promised to lower the deficit, but boasted of being the only president “ever to cut the deficit by more than $1 trillion in a single year.”

If only Republicans still cared, this could be their talking point. But, no surprise, under Trump the deficit exploded, and the long-held conservative principle magically vanished.

One of the most jarring moments of the night was hearing Biden promote American manufacturing. “More cars and semiconductors in America; more infrastructure and innovation in America; instead of relying on foreign supply chains, let’s make it in America.” To which Democrats stood and chanted “USA” — while Republicans sat in silence.

Anyone who lived through the post-9/11, George W. Bush, Toby Keith, “Made in America” era probably felt like they were hallucinating.

But for all of Trump’s bombast around Making America Great Again, his “Buy America” campaign went practically nowhere, and his trade wars hurt many domestic manufacturers.

On tech, Biden was the first president to mention social media in a State of the Union address, promising to hold “platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

Republicans like to talk tough on tech, but Trump relied on Facebook and Twitter to spread his messages far and wide. His wife Melania’s “Be Best” anti-cyberbullying campaign was often ridiculed for its hypocrisy, considering Trump was a notorious cyberbully himself.

Finally, on policing, Biden probably rubbed some progressives the wrong way when he strongly defended law enforcement. “Let’s not abandon our streets, or choose between safety and equal justice. We should all agree: the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.”

For all of Trump’s “back the blue” rhetoric, he not only encouraged an insurrection at the Capitol which saw his supporters attacking police, but on his way out of office, he tried to get Congress to chop $244 million in state and local law enforcement funding.

From Russia to the deficit to the police and places in between, Biden’s speech wasn’t just of another time, but of another party. That Republicans under Trump ceded so many good principles and talking points to Democrats, just because Trump either decided they didn’t matter or was a problematic proponent of them, is a colossal failure. But Republicans will forever pay the price for backing Trump — until they no longer do.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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