Trump's State of the Union was an 80-minute victory lap

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By Shannon Pettypiece  with NBC News Politics
Image: President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address on Fe
As President Trump faced Congress for the last time before voters weigh in on his re-election, his speech was loaded with an unmistakeable tone of triumphalism.   -   Copyright  Al Drago Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On the eve of his likely acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, an emboldened President Donald Trump delivered a defiant State of the Union speech that was light on olive branches, heavy on partisan broadsides.

Standing before the very body that has been debating his removal from office, and in the same chamber where he was impeached, Trump delivered a prime time address strikingly similar to the campaign speeches he uses to rouse his base, with references to God, guns and the evils of socialism.

While the word "impeachment" wasn't in the president's remarks, the tensions were palpable from the very start — with Republicans chanting "four more years" as Trump entered the chamber and pointedly avoided shaking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's hand — to the end, when Pelosi, still seated behind him, ripped up a copy of his speech.

It was clear from the moment Trump entered the chamber Tuesday that his speech, which carried many of the same themes as his last State of the Union, was coming in a much different climate.

This time last year, a swarm of uncertainties hung over Trump's presidency. He had just been through a politically bruising government shutdown in a bid to secure funding for his border wall. Former special counsel Robert Mueller had yet to release the results of his probe into Russian contact with the Trump campaign. And Democrats had just taken control of the House of Representatives, vowing a range of fresh investigations into the president and his administration.

On Tuesday, Trump delivered a triumphant re-election year State of the Union, taking the stage in what was shaping up to be one of the better weeks of his presidency.

It began Monday, as he seized on the reporting meltdown in the Democratic caucuses in Iowa to launch attacks on the party's competence and trustworthiness. On Tuesday, hours ahead of his speech, a new Gallup pollindicated the highest approval rating of his presidency. And on Wednesday, the Senate is expected to vote to acquit him on the articles of impeachment, with few signs of any Republicans willing to even consider breaking ranks.

In the nearly 80-minute address that contained many elements of his campaign rally stump speech, Trump rattled off one metric after another of economic gains under his administration, what he described as a "blue-collar boom." But he used the moment not only to tout his accomplishments, but to belittle his adversaries.

"If we had not reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success," Trump said with cheers from Republicans and boos from Democrats.

Trump's administration has continued an economic recovery than began under the Obama administration, which inherited an economy in free fall.

The president's remarks came just hours after the first of the delayed Iowa caucus results were released. The partial results show former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at the front of the pack in that state.

While Trump didn't mention any Democratic opponent by name, referring to them instead as "the radical left," he took on their policies — particularly around health care. Trump said there were some in the room who "want to take away your healthcare, take away your doctor, and abolish private insurance entirely." In response, several Democrats shouted "you!" and pointed back at him.

The partisan split reached its apex when Trump took the unprecedented action of giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who'd announced on Monday he was suffering from advanced lung cancer. As first lady Melania Trump placed the medal around Limbaugh's neck, someone in the gallery screamed, "Thank you, Rush!" — prompting audible groans from Democrats.

In the end, the bipartisan moments were few, including a perennial hat tip to the need for infrastructure funding and a nod to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

White House officials had said ahead of the speech that it was intended to strike an optimistic tone focused on the theme of "the great American comeback," a stark contrast to the dark "American carnage" imagery he used in his inauguration speech just over three years ago.

In the end, Tuesday's speech retained many of the same notes of Trump's first presidential address, with graphic examples of threats he said faced the nation from within and without. But as he faced Congress for the last time before voters weigh in on his re-election, it was also loaded with an unmistakeable tone of triumphalism.