Here’s Why Stacey Abrams’ State Of The Union Response To Trump Was A Big Deal

Her Political Future Is Bright

February 7, 2019
Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams addresses the crowd in the early morning hours on Wednesday morning at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Atlanta, GA

Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

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Immediately following President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address last night, Democrat Stacey Abrams made history once again by being the first African-American woman to her party’s official response to the annual presidential address on live television. It was a carefully crafted and gracefully delivered speech, it got her major media attention, and it hit many of the party’s major platform issues, once again reminding the country why the Spelman graduate and almost-governor of Georgia has a brilliantly bright future in politics. Let’s go through a few takeaways and highlights:

 

Abrams’ speech was intended just as much for Republican ears as it was for Democrats

When she spoke of hard-working Americans, independence, prosperity, small business, make no mistake: Those are GOP talking points, but they don’t belong exclusively to Republicans. There are some things most Americans can agree on that cross party lines. By leaning more into the issues that unite than those that divide, Abrams showed serious political chops and an understanding of what people who vote are looking for. 

 

Abrams did not run from her racial identity

Rather, she included her story in the wider story of America, and did it in a patriotic way. When she mentioned black mothers who are “risking death to have children,” she’s remembering that health care is a major concern, particularly in the black community, where certain ailments can be deadly for us but no big deal for others. Some believe that African-American politicians should avoid identifying too closely with their racial heritage. By disregarding that school of thought, Abrams proved that the leaders of the new school of politics aren't afraid of who they are, and won't let their pride be silenced in exchange for power.

 

She talked about health care without using it as a prop

Aside from bringing up the concerning rates of complications and even mortality for African-American women during and after childbirth, Abrams also spoke of her father’s battle with prostate cancer, which led her into personal debt. This was, at one point in the Georgia governor’s race, used to blemish her image by suggesting that she was irresponsible with money. But what it ultimately did was give voters something to which they could relate. Medical bills are expensive. Health care is expensive. Good people go into debt quite regularly – all across America – when their loved ones become unexpectedly sick. And it shouldn’t be that way.

 

She showed that she isn’t afraid to fight, but suggested that Trump is

One word that stood out was “timidly,” which Abrams used to describe the White House response to school shootings. Remember, we’re talking about guns here, and being timid isn’t usually associated with people who are all about their Second Amendment rights (although if you think about it, unless you’re hunting, why do you need a gun in the first place if you aren’t in fear of something?) What Abrams was saying here was that the Republican party has been backed into a corner by interest groups like the NRA, and it sounds like she’s saying Trump was too afraid to disappoint his base of supporters to look into gun control measures.

 

Abrams reminded America about family separations at the southern U.S. border

One day we may all look back with shame at how little we all did to stop immigrant children from being taken away from their parents at no fault of their own. After the recently ended (or perhaps paused) government shutdown, which Abrams specifically blamed Trump for creating, it’s easy to forget that this is supposedly all about building a physical barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. And thousands of families are being torn apart because they obviously can’t stay where they are. Yes, we have to figure out immigration policy. But when she said “This administration chooses to cage children,” she helped us remember that we are all being held accountable by the history books as long as we allow government leaders to imprison children for political gain.

 

Abrams extended her own olive branch

“I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth.” By saying this, Abrams let viewers know that she’s not beyond reasoning with Trump in order to get things done for working-class people who believe what they bought in 2016. But never before has a sitting president been accused of having “falsely claimed” (as opposed to “lied”) about so many things. The Washington Post, which came up with its own fact-checking “Pinocchio” rating system, says that by early November 2018, Trump had made more than 6,400 “false or misleading statements.” Nobody wants to call the leader of our government and our military’s commander-in-chief a liar, not even Stacey Abrams, who understands the politics of accusing a head-of-state of being a quote-unquote “liar.” But she’s not making a false statement when she says he needs to do a better job.

 

Abrams is building a coalition

Aside from her Fair Fight initiative which calls for more accurate and transparent elections (she didn’t forget to say that “voter suppression is real”), Abrams also mentioned that LGBTQ Americans are “under attack.” She took a not-so-subliminal swipe at Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who suggested that government employees not being paid during the shutdown should apply for loans, by saying that Republicans either ignore real life or just don’t understand it. And she talked about education loans being crippling to those trying to advance their careers under heavy debt. But throughout these serious challenges she acknowledged, Abrams remembered to reassure viewers with a confident smile. She was hopeful, she stood in front of a diverse group of people in the background of the camera as she spoke, and she took a term that is usually used in attack – “come for” – and turned it until a unifying rally. “Together we are coming for America,” she said. And that “we” might just have become a larger number after folks who may have had false impressions of Abrams finally got a chance to see and hear her speak directly to them in prime time.

Right now it's not clear what Stacey Abrams will decide to do in terms of her political future. She may run again for governor of Georgia; she may challenge David Perdue for his Senate seat. We just don't know yet. But we know Trump has taken notice, and when you’re on national TV so soon after losing an election, it usually means you have national potential. If she runs for U.S. Senate, it’s not guaranteed that she can win, at least today. But even though her response speech is over, we can all say with confidence that she’s certainly not fading out of the picture.

In case you missed it, you can watch Abrams' full rebuttal to the State of the Union here