Almost all of President Trump’s prepared policy speeches in primetime have been well written and capably delivered in the proper tenor. While State of the Union addresses in recent years have become less impactful, Trump’s speeches always have the potential to open the ears of more voters to his message because those turned off by him are primarily hostile to his persona, not his message. The fact that he delivers a serious and substantive speech gets him more mileage than a typical president. Thus, there is no doubt, much like last year’s address to Congress, this one will be well received, perhaps more so.
The speech was perfectly written to blend together the president’s unorthodox way of approaching issues together with formal rhetoric, story-telling, and props. Unlike with Clinton and Obama, the fact that this was a lengthy speech was actually a good thing. Americans need to hear this version of Trump more often. And those watching the optics of the speech were entreated to a spectacle where he looked quite moderate and the Democrats looked extreme beyond anything we’ve seen before – where there is no regard for American dreamers, victims of illegal alien crime, success against terrorists, or standing for the national anthem.
Now, the key for the President is to follow up the next day and the ensuing week with policies that actually seize on this momentum rather than undermining his broader message. If the President would follow up with a series of primetime speeches with a serious demeanor on the important issues, it would be a game-changer for his presidency.
Whereas Obama’s personality was well liked until the bitter end and his policies were unpopular, Trump’s policies would be popular if not for the taint of his unpopular personality. However, much of that taint comes from 140 characters or backhanded comments defined more by the media than himself. He should, therefore, consider a formal televised address from the Oval Office every week reviewing the state of play and forcefully promoting his agenda. The worst thing he can do at this point, however, is to follow up on this speech with another Twitter distraction.
As it relates to policy, there is nothing really new in this speech, as has been the case with most recent SOTU addresses. Trump touted the many conservative policies we support but also promoted some liberal policies on paid family leave, job training programs, and federal control of transportation spending that we oppose. He said a lot of good things on immigration but included his misguided plan for open-ended amnesty.
It is important to note that there were two glaring omissions from this speech: a call for making the tax cuts permanent and for repealing Obamacare.
As he showcased the amazing economic news directly related to the tax cuts, it would have been the perfect time to stare down Democrats, Bernie Sanders in particular, and demand they make the tax cuts permanent.
On health care, he wrongly referred to the individual mandate as “the core” part of Obamacare and then dropped the rest of the issue entirely. According to a new Fox News poll, health care is the top issue of concern for voters and now would have been a great time to give a vision on how to bust up the government/insurance cartel and restore the doctor-patient relationship. He rightfully focused on drug prices and the opioid epidemic, but failed to note that government-run health care is a big culprit of both of the problems.
Clearly, the president has good instincts and common sense. And even where he has some preconceived liberal views, he has shown an openness to the conservative position when it’s actually presented to him. The problem is he doesn’t have enough people around him calling those plays.
This is why he spoke so passionately that “my duty is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities… Because Americans are dreamers too.” Yet, he refuses to back the existing Goodlatte compromise on immigration, opting for a preemptive open-ended amnesty. The “dream” amnesty he so emphatically pushes is the very impetus for the MS-13 crisis in Long Island he so powerfully spoke of tonight.
He rightfully understands the disfunction of our transportation policy but is promoting the very same failed federal system rather than devolving it to the states where it belongs and where spending priorities would be more efficient. Nobody in his administration is showing him how the conservative position on transportation would achieve his goals.
He talks about the fact that “in America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life.” Yet, he calls for massive federal “investments” in private or local matters where previous federal intervention failed before.
He talks about not repeating the same failed strategies on foreign policies but then, against his better judgement, listens to the failed generals on U.S. involvement in Islamic civil wars.
The lesson going forward is that Trump should double down on his own intuition as it relates to policy but listen to his advisors as it relates to public comments. This is essentially the opposite of what he has been doing until now. He recognizes the common sense truth more than any Republican leader in recent years; he just needs to follow through all the way and he can be a great president.
Obviously, there are certain elements of Trump’s more liberal populism we will never succeed in changing, such as a desire to cut spending and limit entitlements. Yet, nor will we succeed with the GOP establishment on that front either.
The way to follow up on this successful speech is to make bold policy demands on the issues that have worked for him until now, which are conservative issues. Tearing down regulations, cutting taxes, starring down enemy nations, and standing for American sovereignty first. Making the tax cuts permanent and pushing a renewal for free market health care reform should be at the top of his list. He should call on Congress to finally send the REINS Act to his desk, repeal Dodd-Frank, and defund Planned Parenthood. And yes, he should call the Democrat bluff on amnesty and finally walk away from DACA altogether, now that they balked at his very generous amnesty offer.
He must commit to ensuring that policy overrides personality and that the right personnel are directing those policies. He shouldn’t listen to failed GOP leaders in Congress, but to those who brought him to the dance. If the President is willing to follow through with the policies that have worked until now, trust those who have supported him until now, and disregard the failed policies and personnel of the past, he can yet astonish the political class with a successful year and even a surprise showing in the midterm elections.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.