The 'Presidential' President finally steps up: Europe reacts to Trump’s speech

President Donald Trump gestures while arriving for a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
Jim Lo Scalzo | Pool Image via AP

Despite widespread complaints over the lack of policy detail, the European media on Wednesday had a broadly positive reaction to the tone and delivery of President Donald Trump's first address to the U.S. Congress.

Indeed, the word "presidential" was drawn upon repeatedly, with the implication that this is not a term that has sprung to mind often during the 45th President's short reign to date, given his unique personal and professional style that flies in the face of much established White House protocol.

British broadsheet The Telegraph commented that Trump was "unusually measured and embraced the pomp and tradition of a presidential address to Congress," while The Times of London's Rhys Blakely went further to call the address "a measured, wide-ranging speech… which looked to reset his presidency after a fitful start."

The Financial Times' Demetri Sevastopulo similarly noted that Trump "struck an uncharacteristically measured tone," before adding the qualification that this was, however, a speech that "left markets disappointed by the lack of detail on tax cuts and other policy plans."

Yet "this is not a speech for the financial markets…that is the last thing on his speechwriter's mind and the President's mind …it's a speech to the public," Pippa Malmgren, Founder, DRPM Group, reminded viewers on CNBC's Squawk Box on Wednesday.

She then echoed the word of the day, adding, "The speechwriter here has done a brilliant job…All the Democrats said 'oh my gosh this changes everything because now he sounds presidential'."

Trump and 'a tale of two speeches': LSE

But did they?

Not according to the Daily Mail's Francesca Chambers who claimed the Democrats "cackled" during his speech, adding, "while none of them were caught shouting incendiary remarks, lawmakers from the opposing party audibly groaned, moaned, grumbled and hissed during the president's joint address."

Nor Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which accused Trump of taking many snipes at the Democrats, "who rarely applauded him all evening." This implies there must have been many sore hands among the Republicans, with British tabloid The Sun claiming that the President's speech was "interrupted 94 times by applause."

The Telegraph's Rob Crilly implied the clapping frenzy may have been more a demonstration of relief than enthusiasm when he wrote, "you know exactly what Congressional Republicans are thinking: Phew. Now, please don't say anything stupid. And for 60 minutes and 11 seconds, Donald Trump pretty much managed it."

Another positive word doing the rounds of European media today was "optimistic" with the Financial Times's Edward Luce positing that "this was America's first glimpse of an upbeat President Trump. He wore it surprisingly well."

This sentiment was echoed by France's Le Monde which described the change as Trump breaking with "his campaign rhetoric, which was often close to dystopian, as well as with the murderous outbursts on his Twitter account."

While agreeing that Trump had never been "so presidential", Italy's Corriere della Sera cautioned that "it remains to be seen whether the change is real…or if the President only wanted to create a diversion."

Indeed, the rapidity and amount of the change was too much for British broadsheet The Guardian's Richard Wolffe, who described the speech as "a heroic effort in contradiction and cliché", pointing out that it was "full of inconsistency when compared to his words and deeds in the White House."

Peter Trubowitz, Director of the United States Centre at the London School of Economics, struck a broadly positive tone on the speech, telling CNBC's Squawk Box, "I think on the margins he helped himself – it was a much less angry speech, dark speech, than his inaugural address for example."

However, he joined those reserving a longer-term judgment for now.

"I do think he helped himself with his base. But Trump could easily just go back on Twitter and get himself back in hot water," concluded the Professor.

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