Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear had the traditionally difficult task of trying to anticipate and respond to a speech he had not yet heard. It was all the more difficult because Donald Trump’s middle name is “Unpredictable.” He was chosen for this gig because the most urgent thing going on in Congress before and after Trump’s speech was the GOP struggle to repeal and replace Obamacare. Kentucky under Beshear’s leadership had a notably successful Obamacare implementation, so he was in a position to provide an upbeat Democratic message no matter what Trump did.
But the effectiveness of Beshear’s response was undermined by a Trump speech that was not dark and divisive, and did not address in any kind of detail the issues the Kentuckian raised, including Obamacare. The president stayed at 30,000 feet on most policy issues, and provided no more than a few minutes on health care, and even less on two other topics Beshear discussed: the intelligence community and financial regulation.
Beshear did find some traction on immigration policy, where he was responding not only to Trump’s speech, but to his executive actions:
President Trump has all but declared war on refugees and immigrants. Look, the president can and should enforce our immigration laws, but we can protect America without abandoning our principles and our moral obligation to help those fleeing war and terror, without tearing families apart and without needlessly jeopardizing our military men and women fighting overseas.
You know, another Republican president, Ronald Reagan, once said “In America, our origins matter less than our destination” and that is what democracy is all about.
But it is not clear anyone will listen to Beshear’s rebuke with the mainstream media excitedly pursuing Trump’s advanced hint that someday, somehow, he might promote comprehensive immigration reform.
All in all, Besmear did himself and his party no harm, and it’s doubtful the path not taken by Democrats, who might have offered a fiery rebuke to the Trump of the past and the future, would have worked any better. What this speech really called for was a minute-by-minute dissection of the president’s false premises and the questions he was failing to answer. That sort of response will take a while, and will be the work of many hands.