WASHINGTON — The defendant finally showed up to have his say. President Trump never uttered the word impeachment, but in a 78-minute speech to the nation that combined a celebration of the American economy, hard-edge policy pronouncements and reality show-style surprises for the audience, he made the case for his presidency as only he could.
It was not a case that persuaded Democrats, who remained seated stonily during the applause lines, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes, but it was not meant to. Assured of acquittal in the Senate trial on Wednesday, Mr. Trump moved past preserving his first term and focused on securing a second with an argument aimed at both his political base and dubious suburban voters.
It had a surreal quality, a president on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors addressing lawmakers in the same House chamber where he was impeached just seven weeks ago. While Mr. Trump resisted the impulse to show up at the Senate trial to reject the charges against him over the last couple of weeks, he used his State of the Union address to present a different sort of defense without the burden of cross-examination, in effect arguing that the “great American comeback” he claimed credit for outweighed the allegations against him.
If Democrats were unmoved, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi ostentatiously ripped up her copy of his speech once it was done, making sure the cameras would catch the moment, Republicans embraced the president many of them once scorned. They welcomed him with hearty applause and even chanted, “Four more years! Four more years!” as if it were a campaign rally rather than an affair of state.