From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Today: In his first State of the Union address since losing control of Congress, the president repeatedly spoke of bipartisan unity. But a history of these speeches suggests that it’s everything else he said that will best predict how he actually governs. It’s Wednesday, February 6. Mark?

Good. Happy State of the Union.

I really don’t like this language people use, “S.O.T.U.”

Yeah, it’s really awful.

Awful. So let’s not do that.

It’s kind of a dismal evening anyway, and calling it “S.O.T.U.” just sort of deepens the gloom that hangs over the whole thing.

And yeah, why is it so gloomy?

I don’t know. I mean, you wouldn’t believe it— there were, like, 50 people in the meeting today for S.O.T.U. planning.

What did we say about that word?

O.K., everybody good? Mark, what’s the significance of this particular State of the Union in your mind?

For President Trump, this is the first State of the Union address he’s delivered since his party was swept out of power in the midterm election last November. And so it’s the first time he’s facing a divided Congress. And the president is really forced to conduct a very public reset of his presidency to take account of a divided Washington. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president bill clinton)

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker. [END PLAYBACK]

It’s not a unique situation, by any stretch. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): Madame Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests and fellow citizens.

archived recording (president barack obama)

Members of Congress, distinguished guests and fellow Americans. [END PLAYBACK]

All three of Mr. Trump’s immediate predecessors faced the same situation. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president bill clinton)

Again, we are here in the sanctuary of democracy. ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): The rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour. [END PLAYBACK]

With State of the Union addresses they gave after their party suffered defeats in midterm elections. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): When decisions are hard and courage is needed.

archived recording (president barack obama)

I believe we can, and I believe we must. [END PLAYBACK]

Each of them approached the situation in different ways. And in each case, it provided a sort of a telling glimpse, a blueprint for how they were going to behave over the coming two years of their presidencies. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): And this is the business before us tonight.

archived recording (president barack obama)

That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us.

archived recording (president bill clinton)

Well, my fellow Americans, that’s my agenda for America’s future. [END PLAYBACK]

So take us through the examples of these last three presidents who have given these speeches after they lost a midterm election. How have they approached the speech?

Well, let’s start with Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton gave his State of the Union address in January 1995 — [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

Democrats lost the House, they lost the Senate. [END PLAYBACK]

Three months after his party suffered a devastating defeat in the midterm elections. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

The Democratic chairman David Wilhelm said, simply, we got our butts kicked. Not one incumbent Republican lost. The anti-Clinton tide was fueled largely by frustration. [END PLAYBACK]

Time Magazine put him on the cover under the headline “The Incredible Shrinking President.” Journalists even asked him whether he was still relevant anymore. And so this relatively young, untested president was dealt a very serious blow. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States. [END PLAYBACK]

And he really came into his State of the Union address acknowledging that fact. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president bill clinton)

If we agree on nothing else tonight, we must agree that the American people certainly voted for change in 1992 and in 1994. As I look out at you, I know how some of you must have felt in 1992. [END PLAYBACK]

Bill Clinton took a very contrite tone. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president bill clinton)

In this effort, I am trying to say that I have made my mistakes. And I have learned, again, the importance of humility in all human endeavor. [END PLAYBACK]

So this was a president who admitted that he had screwed up and he pledged to learn from this experience. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president bill clinton)

I think we all agree that we have to change the way the government works. Let’s make it smaller, less costly and smarter— leaner and not meaner. [END PLAYBACK]

And even more than that, he pledged to take seriously the message that this incoming Republican majority brought with it. He acknowledged that, to some extent, the era of big government was over. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president bill clinton)

And we’re working on getting rid of unnecessary regulations and making them more sensible. The programs and regulations that have outlived their usefulness should go. [END PLAYBACK]

Bill Kristol, a conservative commentator, commented after this speech was given that it was the most conservative State of the Union address any Democratic president had ever delivered. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president bill clinton)

This is a very, very great country. And our best days are still to come. Thank you, and God bless you all. [END PLAYBACK]

So how much did Clinton’s message at this State of the Union— this conciliatory tone, these promises of bipartisanship and an acknowledgment of this conservative agenda— how much did it predict how he was going to govern for the next two years?

So, in fact, Bill Clinton did adjust. He did govern more as a centrist. He did pursue policies where he tried to find some common ground. And in the end, by moving toward his opponents, he wound up being very successful. And two years later, he was re-elected by a comfortable margin over his Republican opponent, Bob Dole. And Newt Gingrich, his antagonist— the man who sat behind him that night at the speech— wound up being the wounded figure, because he had gone to war with President Clinton over a government shutdown, and he ended up shouldering the blame, not Clinton. In other words, the State of the Union actually showed that this was a president who was learning on the job, who was willing to adjust course, and came out of it victorious. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

Washington turned upside down. The Democrats in, Rumsfeld out— tonight on “Washington Week.” ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping. Even the president could not find a silver lining this time. [END PLAYBACK]

Twelve years later, Bill Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, found himself in a very similar situation. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

Republicans licked their wounds. Don Rumsfeld lost his job. [END PLAYBACK]

The Iraq War has gone very badly. He’s been widely condemned for his handling of Hurricane Katrina. And in the midterm elections of 2006, the voters deliver a brutal message. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

I think you could say the driving force was that old refrain, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And that’s what we heard. [END PLAYBACK]

They send Congress back into the control of the Democrats. And President Bush turns up for his State of the Union address. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (speaker nancy pelosi)

The president of the United States. [END PLAYBACK]

Facing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): And tonight, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of my own as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madame Speaker. [END PLAYBACK] He’s extremely gracious to her. He congratulates her. He refers to her father, who was a Democratic lawmaker from Baltimore, and the pride he would have felt if he had seen his daughter presiding in the chamber that night. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy. [END PLAYBACK] And then he delivers a speech. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate, and I congratulate the Democrat majority. [END PLAYBACK] Where he takes account of the bitterness that Iraq has caused and the opposition that it has stirred up. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. [END PLAYBACK] Not just among Democrats, but among members of his own party. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): I’ve spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you’ve made. We went into this largely united in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. [END PLAYBACK] And he, in effect, pleads for more time. He says that in this difficult situation, he and his military advisers have decided on a troop surge. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): So we’re deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. [END PLAYBACK] And he basically asks for time to get this war right. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way. [END PLAYBACK]

So President Bush uses this speech to acknowledge the unhappiness in the country. But unlike Clinton after the midterms, he doesn’t change his approach. In fact, he leans into it and doubles down on it when it comes to the war in Iraq. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] ARCHIVED RECORDING (PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH): Our cause in the world is right. And tonight, that cause goes on. God bless. [END PLAYBACK]

And he also sticks to it afterward. So this speech is a very accurate blueprint for what the rest of the Bush presidency looks like. He does send the troops, they wind up having more success than many of the critics expected, and this becomes the way the United States winds down the war in Iraq. He really lays out the end game in Iraq in this State of the Union address. It actually proves to be a very, very accurate predictor of how things play out. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

Right now, we’re looking at a live picture of the U.S. Capitol, where the Republicans will seize control of the House of Representatives. Picking up more than 60 seats now. Ohio’s John Boehner now stands to become the next speaker, replacing Nancy Pelosi. He already got a call. [END PLAYBACK]

And then came President Obama, who spoke before Congress in January 2011, three months after his party lost control of Congress. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

The American people have sent an unmistakable message to him tonight, and that message is— change course. [END PLAYBACK]

And left this young president very much on his back foot. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president barack obama)

Tonight, I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress as well as your new speaker, John Boehner. [END PLAYBACK]

And how did Obama’s State of the Union confront that?

Well, Obama responds to this setback, to this defeat, not by being contrite or acknowledging error. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president barack obama)

For the challenges we face are bigger than party, bigger than politics. [END PLAYBACK]

But by, in effect, pushing past it. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president barack obama)

At stake right now is not who wins the next election— after all, we just had an election. [END PLAYBACK]

By brushing it aside, by saying there are bigger things that we need to focus on than petty politics. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president barack obama)

At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country or somewhere else. [END PLAYBACK]

Essentially, by ignoring it.

archived recording (president barack obama)

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. [END PLAYBACK]

So it was a very soaring message that was in keeping with the way President Obama ran for office, but one that didn’t necessarily acknowledge the defeat that his party had just suffered.

So does the way that Obama responds to this division in this speech— by kind of ignoring it, by not fully acknowledging the new political terrain he has to confront— does this forecast how he ends up working with Congress for the next two years?

I think it does quite accurately. Because if you look at what happens in the years after this, President Obama never really does form a good working relationship. He never really does roll up his sleeves and attempt to find much common ground with Republicans in Congress. And so, to some extent, these grand ideas remain just that— grand ideas, because he wasn’t able to work with Republicans to translate them into more of a tangible reality.

So in that sense, the speech was a very honest and accurate predictor.

O.K. So it is 7:52, Mark— a little over an hour before President Trump gives his State of the Union. Given the history you’ve just described, what do you expect his message to be now that he has divided government?

We don’t know exactly what he’s going to say, but we do know that whatever their differences, all three of his predecessors issued a call for unity. Unity is the one theme that we can almost certainly expect to hear in virtually any State of the Union address. But what’s really interesting is less that than what’s between the lines, what’s the subtext or the nuance in the State of the Union address. That’s where you can really see what the president plans to do, how he plans to govern, what blueprint or what predicate he’s putting in place. So what’s going to be interesting in President Trump’s address is not a call for unity. It’s almost certainly going to be there. It’s the other things that are in the speech that are going to really tell you what we can expect.

So, Mark, thank you for now. We will talk to you after Trump’s State of the Union in, I guess, an hour or two.

So, Mark, what did President Trump do tonight?

Well, when President Trump took the rostrum in the House chamber tonight — [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Thank you very much. Madame Speaker. [END PLAYBACK]

He uttered the phrase “Madame Speaker” in deference to Nancy Pelosi, but he avoided giving her any further congratulations on taking up her position. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

We meet tonight at a moment of unlimited potential. [END PLAYBACK]

He did, nevertheless, start off with— [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

As we begin a new Congress, I stand here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for all Americans. [END PLAYBACK]

A pretty standard call for bipartisanship and for unity. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Hoping that we will govern not as two parties, but as one nation. [END PLAYBACK]

He said at one point— [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Victory is not winning for our party— [END PLAYBACK]

Victory is not winning for our party, victory is winning for our country. From there, he sort of segued into the economic achievements of his administration. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom. [END PLAYBACK]

But at that point, he took a distinct turn in tone. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it— [END PLAYBACK]

He basically said at this point— [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. [END PLAYBACK]

There can’t be any cooperation on legislation if there’s going to be what he called ridiculous partisan investigations of his presidency. This was a reference not only to potential future investigations by Congress, but also the Mueller investigation. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way. [END PLAYBACK]

And he actually put a fairly menacing tone on it. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Now is the time for bipartisan action. Believe it or not, we have already proven that that’s possible. [END PLAYBACK]

From there, he turns to a more bipartisan issue— criminal justice reform. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Criminal justice reform— they said it couldn’t be done. [END PLAYBACK]

But almost immediately— [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Now Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis. [END PLAYBACK]

He then segues into immigration, talks about the virtues and importance of building a wall. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders. [END PLAYBACK]

And accuses the political elite of being divided from ordinary, working-class Americans. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

While living their lives behind walls and gates and guards. [END PLAYBACK]

So the language here is extremely uncompromising. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Simply put— walls work, and walls save lives. [END PLAYBACK]

And this toggling continues throughout the speech. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela. [END PLAYBACK]

At one point, he’s talking about the global coalition to force out a tyrant, an autocrat in Venezuela. And yet in his next breath— [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. [END PLAYBACK]

He’s likening this new class of Democrats in Congress to socialists. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

America was founded on liberty and independence. [END PLAYBACK]

And saying, America will never be a socialist country. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

We are born free, and we will stay free. [END PLAYBACK]

But it sounds like you think that the conciliatory language is just the obligatory language of the State of the Union, and it’s the harder-edged stuff that we should be listening to and thinking about in relation to past State of the Unions that you outlined before.

I do. I think that if you look at the things the president talks about that are more conciliatory, they tend to be on the level of symbolism. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

In recent years, we have made remarkable progress in the fight against H.I.V. and AIDS. [END PLAYBACK]

A campaign to fight AIDS with no dollar sign attached to it. A campaign to fight cancer in children with no specifics attached to it. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

My budget will ask Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical, life-saving research. [END PLAYBACK]

While the areas where he’s hard-edged are really the ones that matter to the future direction of governance and of his relationship with Congress. Whether he resolves this issue over funding the wall and, more broadly, whether he and the Democrats ever come to terms on immigration is really a core issue of how the rest of the Trump presidency will play out. That, much more than these conciliatory stories, these nice images, are really what matter in this speech. And I think the speechwriters were very careful to lard this speech with this kind of uplifting material. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon. [END PLAYBACK] To make it more attractive to a broad audience while also speaking to the president’s political base. But make no mistake— this speech was targeted to the political base. It was meant to mollify that base. And I think it’s important that we not lose sight of that reality.

So where does this speech fit into the history of State of the Unions that have come after the dawn of divided government?

Well, I think what’s most significant is that there is really no acknowledgment in this speech of the changed circumstances. There’s no acknowledgment here that President Trump faces a new political reality, that he has to do business with the Democrats if he wants to get any significant legislation passed. This is the speech given by a president who is behaving very much like he did the week he was inaugurated, when he had a unified Congress under his control.

Does that make this, then, an Obama-like State of the Union?

I think the difference with President Obama is that, while he did not suggest that the defeat in the midterms was really going to change how he approached governing, he did at least acknowledge the fact that he had suffered an electoral setback in the midterms. In Mr. Trump’s case, he didn’t acknowledge the defeat he suffered in the midterm elections except in a highly indirect way. And it was actually one of the most remarkable moments of the evening. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women. [END PLAYBACK]

President Trump was talking about the increasing numbers of women in the workplace, including in Congress. And spontaneously, this group of young, female Democratic lawmakers rose in unison and began chanting “U.S.A” and cheering and clapping. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Very good. And congratulations, that’s great. [END PLAYBACK]

And the president broke into a smile and appeared, in a funny way, to be taking credit for their presence in the House— which, of course, is deeply ironic, because the reason they’re in the House is because they were elected largely as a repudiation of him. So I think if you’re looking for any signs of a newly pragmatic president or a president who will take heed of some of the concerns of the opposing party, I don’t think we saw any of that in the speech tonight. And I would not expect to see any of that in his governing style over the next couple of years.

Well, Mark, it is almost 1:00 a.m. We are really grateful to you, thank you so much.

Thank you, Michael. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

archived recording (president donald trump)

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America. Thank you very much. [END PLAYBACK]

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Tuesday, in the latest sign of progress toward a peace deal, leaders of the Taliban met with former high-ranking leaders of the Afghan government, including its former president in Moscow. The session excluded the leaders of Afghanistan’s current government, who the Taliban views as a US puppet but was still the most significant contact between the Taliban and Afghan leaders since the US drove the Taliban from power in 2001. In a surprising development during the negotiations, the Taliban said it now respected women’s rights, including the right to education and work, despite having banned women from public life when the group was in power. And. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

For example, you wrote in the 1990s that climate change is nothing more than a major environmental boogey man and the greenhouse effort is a controversial theory pushed by environmental groups. You still stand by those assertions? [END PLAYBACK]

During a heated confirmation hearing on Tuesday, senators from both parties questioned the past writings of Naomi Rowe, president Trump’s nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the powerful federal appeals court in Washington. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

Senator Leahy, those are statements from college, as you said, a few decades old when I think some of these issues were more hotly debated. And, no, I mean, I think the science has become much more conclusive over time. Conclusive in what way? Well, I think they’re— my understanding is that there’s an overwhelming scientific consensus that there is climate change. [END PLAYBACK]

Senators repeatedly asked Rowe to explain a series of provocative columns she wrote as a college student expressing skepticism about global warming and calling equality between women and men a dangerous concept. [AUDIO PLAYBACK]

A dangerous feminist ideal is that women are created equal? Senator, I very much regret that statement and I’ve always believed strongly in the equality of women and men and for equal rights and opportunities for women. I’m honestly not sure why I wrote that in college. [END PLAYBACK]

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.