Jan 29, 2018

Expect Trump's inside voice at tomorrow's State of the Union

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images

President Trump's aides say to expect a more bipartisan and collaborative tone in tomorrow's State of the Union Address — in contrast to his own record.

The partisan fights, like Obamacare and tax cuts, are behind. Now everything requires cooperation and agreement.
— A Trump source
  • Reality check: Trump rarely even flicks at real cooperation in big negotiations. 
  • Trump source: "Time to appear as commander-in-chief and leader of the whole nation. So expect calls to patriotism and national security and national greatness."
  • Reality check #2: Trump has offended almost every group in American politics other than straight, white, Trump-supporting men. 

Trump hasn’t changed, and won’t. But following his unlikely triumph in Davos, and looking ahead to tomorrow’s address, we see a clear pattern: For big speeches, he tends to stick to the prompter and is less divisive than usual, and basks in the ensuing reviews.

  • We saw it in his first address to Congress, just over a month after the inauguration, which fed internal hopes that some semblance of normalcy might lie ahead.
  • It didn’t, of course. But for a president who loves praise, it was a cue for how to get it.
  • So we saw a well-behaved Davos man. And aides are previewing a State of the Union that’s more classic conservative than populist brimstone — although laced with plenty of boasting.

Trump can yell at the world at his campaign rallies, then use his inside voice for big moments like tomorrow:

  • Don’t look for any new policy in this speech. Instead, expect key moments when, drawing on one of Ronald Reagan’s most effective plays, Trump brings in the life experience of a gallery guest — a family affected by opioid addiction, or a mother whose daughter was killed by MS-13 gang members.
  • Swan reminded us in his Sneak Peek newsletter yesterday that the most emotional part of Trump's speech to Congress last year was when he spoke directly to the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL. Look for more of those moments.

For all Trump's triumphalism, the speech comes against a discouraging backdrop that has kept a pall on morale among many in the administration:

  • Robert Mueller is sending ominous signals.
  • Democrats are likely to take over the House, with resulting investigations and torment for the West Wing.
  • An ambitious legislative achievement is unlikely this year. Tomorrow’s speech will tout Trump's infrastructure plans. But even close allies see no path to a big win.
  • The White House faces daunting negotiations on an immigration package that includes both a “Dreamer” solution and a plausible wall.

Be smart: Trump creates his own reality. (The N.Y Times’ Maggie Haberman has said it’s as if he has a magic Crayon to draw the world as he wishes). And his current reality is dominated by praise for his tax cut, and a peppy stock market that has become his new political poll.

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