With President Donald Trump’s effective State of the Union address, the Democratic resistance lost a lot of steam. The president won the night. It pays to be underestimated in American politics.
The question of whether or not the president could appear reasonable and serious was open for debate. This week, as I talked to Republicans around the country, many asked whether Trump could achieve a big moment. Could he really comport himself as classically presidential? Well, expectations were low. Republicans were craving a non-event, a moment of normalcy that did not leave them embarrassed and on the defensive Wednesday. They hoped for nothing that would cause head-shaking demoralizing bewilderment, shell-shocked mumbling or both among the GOP faithful.
And the president delivered. He was not a terrifying wild man. Tuesday’s presentation was completely different from his dark and dour inauguration speech.
Substantively, the president included all the issues that he has spoken about since he started his run for the presidency: big economic issues, America’s foreign military deployments, immigration, crime and health care. He professed that “working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”
It is puzzling to me why Trump doesn’t take more credit and be more specific about what has happened with the economy since he took over from President Barack Obama. But I give Trump credit for clarifying the debate about the evolution of abortion in America and drawing a clear line of what the Democrats want versus what Republicans see as horrific extinguishing of human life.
Calling out Democrats on their previous support of a wall was effective. And Trump even got the angry resistance clapping for him when he talked about the unprecedented number of women serving in Congress. At about 50 minutes into the speech, the Democrats seemed to yield and acknowledge that this was the president’s forum and this was his night. Trump’s presentation became more confident, and he seemed to lean in to the occasion. He knew that he had the room.
One can only extrapolate and think about how the president’s performance Tuesday will contrast with the message his eventual opponent offers in 2020. During his address, Trump made everyone pause in thinking that anyone the Democrats nominate is destined to defeat him. He showed that he can outflank their positions and leave them flat-footed by his presentation of the issues that matter to voters.
It takes time to process big events and determine what has lasting impact and what doesn’t. Still, there is no doubt that Trump helped himself Tuesday and brought a lot of peace to the minds of many worried Republicans. But what do we know about State of the Union addresses and what do we know about the president? We know that the euphoria of the historic occasion is short-lived and we know that Trump will be tweeting soon.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to Washington Post Opinions, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns.