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Obama's 'real' SOTU goal: Embarrass the Republicans

If you're tuning into tonight's State of the Union address, don't expect the unexpected.

President Obama will deliver the 2015 State of the Union to a joint session of Congress tonight, speaking to a room full of more Republicans than Democrats for the first time in his presidency. An estimated 30 million viewers will tune in at home, and chances are, no one will be particularly surprised by anything they hear.

That's because the President has put up plenty of trial balloons in the weeks heading into tonight's address.  He's floated plans on raisng taxes for the wealthy, free community college, more broadband competition, new regulations on methane emissions for the oil and gas industry, and help for first time homebuyers.

So why the run-up to the big event? “This is strictly about the 2016 election,” says Potomac Research’s Chief Political Strategist, Greg Valliere. “Both parties are beginning to posture with their own narratives.”

The narrative for the Democrats appears to be centered around tax breaks for the middle class. In his speech tonight, the president will ask Congress to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and the largest financial firms, which would then pay for some hefty tax cuts for the middle class. The problem? It’s about as ‘dead on arrival’ as you can get. Republicans will argue raising taxes now would slow economic growth at a time the U.S. economy is just getting its footing.

Related: How Obama lost the middle class

“I think the White House is going to try to embarrass the Republicans and try to make them look as if they defend the very wealthy," says Valliere. "It’s purely politics.”

Purely politics? That's expected. But is it good politics? “If you look at polls, it might help [the Democrats] a little bit,” says Valliere. “But on the other hand, no, it’s not good politics. All you’ve done is really antagonize the Republicans who see this for what it is. And I think you even further diminish the chances of getting anything done in the next two years.”

It's not just about what the President will say tonight that will hamper Congress in 2015 and 2016.  Valliere points to "divisions within both parties."  The GOP is dealing with the Tea Party hardline.  There are differences among Democrats as well, says Valliere, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid have spoken out against a free trade deal that President Obama supports.

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Of course, there is always a chance for some reaching-across-the-aisle rhetoric tonight.  Valliere says the President may make a push for the "war on terror," for example, or cater to Republicans by discussing free trade. But don't expect that to extend very far - especially not to the realm of taxes.

And that's not a good thing, as far as Valliere is concerned: “This proposal from the President is so blatantly partisan. It’s going to hurt him and his abilities to get anything through Congress.”

Perhaps it is a good thing, then, for the President that he goes into the State of the Union riding momentum after a new poll showing his first approval rating uptick in years. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 50 percent say they approve of the job Obama is doing as commander-in-chief. That’s his highest approval rating since the spring of 2013.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, the GOP’s new rising star, will deliver the Republicans' rebuttal to the State of the Union address.

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