John Krull: With enemies like these, who needs friends

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Krull

The early polls declared President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address a success.

CNN’s flash poll was perhaps the best example. It showed that six out of 10 people who watched the speech liked it.

This prompted the president and his team to do something resembling a victory dance.

It’s understandable that they’re happy — receiving approval ratings of better than 60% is better than bombing, of course — but they would be wise to demonstrate a little modesty while they celebrate.

The triumph is not theirs alone. They had a lot of help from their opposition.

Perhaps Biden’s chief ally was his 2020 rival and now all-but-inevitable 2024 general election opponent, former President Donald Trump.

Trump has been so dogged and determined in his depiction of Biden as a doddering, blithering old fool that he has lowered the bar for the president’s public appearances so much that an inchworm could crawl over it with ease.

Thanks to Trump, every time Biden makes a speech without having a stroke, he scores a victory of sorts. Knowledgeable Republican political professionals have been trying to warn Trump of this for the past five years, but his response always has been to chase them away—and then double down on making life easier for the guy who beat him four years ago.

But lowering expectations for Biden isn’t the only problem Trump causes for himself by focusing on the president’s age and health.

Trump also opens himself to counterattacks by doing so. When Biden did address the age issue in his speech, he noted that he and his “predecessor” — as he referred to Trump throughout the address — were basically the same age.

Then Biden delivered the hammer blow.

He said the issue shouldn’t be the candidates’ ages but, rather, the age of their ideas. Given that much of Trump’s political thinking comes from Genghis Kahn, it was a sly and devastating dig.

Trump wasn’t the only one who propped Biden up during the hour-and-a-quarter-long stemwinder.

Even though that noted deep thinker, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, had been cautioned not to heckle Biden during the speech, she couldn’t restrain herself.

To be fair, Biden baited her.

And she walked right into the trap.

No, that’s not accurate. She sprinted into the trap.

Her breathless dash came when Biden began to talk about the border security bill Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have refused to consider—because Trump told them using it as a campaign issue was more important than saving lives.

Greene began shouting about Laken Riley, a Georgia student allegedly murdered by an undocumented Venezuelan immigrant.

In an unscripted moment, Biden responded by holding up button with Riley’s picture on it that Greene had handed him before the address began, spoke her name and offered condolences to her family.

In doing so, Biden came across as the healer-in-chief.

And Greene?

Well, she presented herself as a political opportunist willing to trade on a young woman’s tragic death just to secure another 30 seconds in the spotlight.

But this wasn’t the end of the aid and comfort Republicans offered the man they say they want to oust from the White House.

Biden devoted a sizable portion of his speech to reproductive rights and other questions of personal autonomy for America’s women. He signaled that this discussion was going to be at the center of the national discussion as the 2024 campaign heats up.

To counter his arguments, the GOP trotted out U.S. Sen. Katie Britt, R-Alabama, to deliver the party’s response to the State of the Union.

They had Britt deliver her largely incoherent talk in her kitchen.

Yup.

Her kitchen.

This raised the obvious question: Are there any competent political professionals still working in Donald Trump’s Republican Party?

Not long ago, Republicans ran light years ahead of Democrats in the art of political messaging, consistently finding ways to have the settings for GOP events reflect and even amplify the statement the party wanted to make.

Democrats still aren’t good at this, but they don’t have to be.

Because Republicans have become bad at it.

Really.

Really.

Really.

Bad.

A century ago, H.L. Mencken, the Baltimore bard possessed of a pen that blistered, wrote that President Calvin Coolidge came to power only because his opponents obligingly committed political suicide to make his rise possible.

Joe Biden seems to have the Coolidge touch.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The views expressed are those of the author only and should not be attributed to Franklin College.