Conservatives Respond To Trump's State Of The Union Conservative writers Jonah Goldberg of National Review and Chris Buskirk of the website American Greatness offer their take on President Trump's State of the Union with NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Conservatives Respond To Trump's State Of The Union

Conservatives Respond To Trump's State Of The Union

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Conservative writers Jonah Goldberg of National Review and Chris Buskirk of the website American Greatness offer their take on President Trump's State of the Union with NPR's Steve Inskeep.


President Trump addressed a profoundly divided country last night, and that includes divides within his own party, even if most Republican voters do remain behind the president. We've called upon two conservatives with different views of President Trump. Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review. He's been critical.

Jonah, thanks for coming by once again.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Good to be here.

INSKEEP: And Chris Buskirk also joins us again. He's in Phoenix - a radio talk show host and publisher of the website American Greatness. He's been more supportive of the president, I think it's fair to say.

Chris, good morning.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Thanks for joining us so early in Phoenix there, I know. Jonah, let me begin with you. Did the president do anything that you liked last night?

GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah. I thought tonally, if we had seen this President Trump from this time last year, he would be having a much smoother, more successful presidency. I thought a lot of the accomplishments that he was bragging about, as much as any president gets to brag about some of these things...

INSKEEP: Economy's doing well - might be...

GOLDBERG: Economy doing well. We can have a economic...

INSKEEP: ...Doing or not (unintelligible).

GOLDBERG: ...Argument about how much presidents deserve credit for these things. But he deserves it as much as any president does on his watch. There was a lot of that kind of thing. I - the sort of bringing in these outsiders as sort of pathos or sympathy by takeout, which was begun by Ronald Reagan...

INSKEEP: Calling out people in the audience.

GOLDBERG: ...I thought went to another level, in part because Donald Trump himself rhetorically has a very difficult time communicating some of the emotions he was trying to evoke in the audience. So he was using these people as props. And at times, it was very moving. The North Korean dissident was extremely moving to me. The parents of various people were moving. But it just also felt over-the-top at times.

INSKEEP: OK. Chris Buskirk, did the president do anything that disappointed you last night?

BUSKIRK: Well, no, not really. I will tell you - and we may talk about this at greater length a little later. But I will tell you that his immigration proposal I think is a bit over-the-top. But in general, I think that he gave a good speech. I think that it was what we expected. We expected him to talk about the economy, and jobs, and the tax cut and infrastructure, a lot of things where, as Jonah says, were - you know, as much as any president, he can take credit - but looking forward to a time a little later in his presidency were his policies really will have kicked in, and he can say, look, unemployment's low, wages are rising, and more people are going back to work, and my policies were responsible for this. So no, I thought it was a good speech.

INSKEEP: You said you wanted to talk about immigration. Let's do that. The plan has been criticized by both Democrats and some conservative Republicans because, among other things, the president offers a pathway to citizenship for people who are eligible for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (ph) program. One of the critics was Warren Davidson, Republican representative from Ohio, who spoke with us after the speech.

WARREN DAVIDSON: People from all over the world come here, and they do it legally. And I think it would be wrong to put any of these folks in line ahead of the folks that have followed the law and have worked hard to do it the right way.

INSKEEP: Chris Buskirk, are you not willing to accept that pathway to citizenship for people in the DACA program in exchange for all the other things the president is demanding?

BUSKIRK: Yeah, I think the offer that he has made really is - it's over-the-top. I think that the place for Republicans to start is a bill that was proposed three weeks ago by Bob Goodlatte in the House. That, I think, is much more reasonable. But I'll tell you what. The other part of it is, I'm honestly not that worried about it except in the purely theoretical level because my opinion at this point, cynical though it may be, is that Democrats don't want a deal on DACA.

What they really want is an issue that they can cry about, that they can fundraise on, and that they can try and turn out their base with in November. What - the deal that President Trump has offered, that he floated over the past few days is very generous. It's something that rubs people like me a little bit the wrong way. But I don't think it's going anyplace because Chuck Schumer really doesn't want to pass a piece of legislation.

INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg?

GOLDBERG: I think there is at least some truth to that.

INSKEEP: Although, the president himself has also weaved back and forth on immigration here.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean, look, I think it's absolutely true that Democrats would want to use the issue of immigration, as much as they want to make progress on the immigration. And I think that probably applies to a lot of Republicans, as well. I do think that what we're seeing, though, here is something that, you know, a lot of us predicted from the - early on is that the candidate Trump - that we're going to have this giant wall; we're going to get rid of them - deportation force. The people who actually believed all of that, like Ann Coulter and some others - and really wanted that - there was no way that those people weren't going to be the most - weren't eventually going to be disappointed because that was not possible.

INSKEEP: OK, so they may be disappointed by the policy, but let's talk about the rhetoric. Elsewhere in the program, we have some fact-checking by our colleagues Scott Detrow and Mara Liasson. And they were looking at some of the president's statements about an MS-13-related killing, some other things the president said. And Mara Liasson said President Trump essentially - his message is that immigrants are coming to kill us.

GOLDBERG: I did not like that part. I thought that was the low point of it. It felt very much like a bloody shirt. It felt, symbolically, as a way to sort of reassure his emotional base on immigration, that I'm still really with you, even though I'm doing this thing on policy that you hate. But it felt extremely manipulative to me and exploitative. And there was a lot in this State of the Union - that the White House wanted a bill that's bipartisan - that felt more like trolling. And the discussion of immigration was among those things I think was set up to annoy the Democrats more than to bring them on board.

INSKEEP: Chris Buskirk, as Mara Liasson pointed out, the president highlighted a real murder, but if you look at statistics, immigrants commit crimes less often than people who are already here.

BUSKIRK: Yeah. The problem with that statistic, Steve, is that that counts all immigrants. When we - when you look at illegal immigration - there's a recent study that was done by John Lott that came out at the end of last week. Illegal immigrants - and he used a lot of data that came, actually, out of my state, out of Arizona.

Illegal immigrants, in fact, commit crime, and we're not talking about immigration crime - other types of crime - at a rate that's meaningfully higher than all other people. Now, when you talk about legal immigrants - actually, it's an interesting point. Legal immigrants do commit crime at a lower rate than even natural-born citizens. That's why we need to do both. We need to fix illegal immigration, but we need to fix legal immigration as well with something like the RAISE Act.

INSKEEP: Jonah, let me give you the last word here because many people will point out that President Trump is just not going to change. He hasn't changed. He continues to be the same kind of person behaving in the same kind of way. But it was a little different kind of a speech last night. Did you see any sign of change?

GOLDBERG: No. Well, I mean, I don't know. It was a better speech than he gave last year. He gives good speeches every now and then. But it's like one of those construction sites with a sign that says, you know, X many days since an accident. We have X many days until Donald Trump tweets or says something that steps on his own message and that - you know, we're recording this early in the morning. Watch his Twitter feed. If it goes more than 48 hours without him doing something similar, I will be shocked.

INSKEEP: Jonah...

GOLDBERG: ...And pleased.

INSKEEP: OK, Jonah Goldberg of National Review and the LA Times, thank you very much.


GOLDBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And Chris Buskirk of American Greatness, who joined us by Skype. Chris, thank you very much.

BUSKIRK: Thanks, Steve.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.