Four big takeaways (and four shocking surprises) from Trump’s speech

Maybe I have baseball on the brain, but when I watch President Trump what I’ve seen to date is one fastball after another.

For nearly nine months now, Trump has thrown at one speed – hard, high and inside. His candidacy: hardly nuanced. His presidency: as subtle as a wrecking ball.

This was one of several unresolved questions going into Tuesday night’s joint address to Congress: could Trump deviate from the rhetorical heat that proved effective as a candidate to a president capable of mixing speeds (rhetorically, at least) and keeping Democratic batters off-balance and behind in the count?

Trump’s address — he billed it as “a renewal of the American spirit,” calling on Congress to join him “in dreaming big, and bold and daring things for our country” — weaved in and out of familiar places. But with the occasional surprise detour – the sort of focus-group approach that made Bill Clinton’s speeches before Congress so long (Trump spoke for an hour) but politically effective.

Now that Trump has lent his voice to policy choices, he has a choice. He can sit back and trust Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to do the driving. Or, he can work with the congressional leadership to keep the flock from straying.

Democrats were forced to take notice of Trump’s call for paid family leave, just as Republicans couldn’t ignore a stronger-than-usual call for school choice.

Trump constantly repeated to a higher ground of bipartisanship and national pride, be it rebuilding at home or reengaging overseas.

The effectiveness of it all? I’ll wager that it tested well with voters willing to put aside the man’s personality and listen to his ideas.

Several hours before Trump’s address, I attended a lunch where House Speaker Paul spoke briefly. Ryan outlined a prestissimo tempo on Capitol Hill this spring: budgeting, tax reform, salvaging the health care train wreck. Another baseball metaphor comes to mind: the House pitching, the Senate catching.

Starting with Tuesday night’s address, if he wants his agenda – or a reasonable portion of it in the first two years – he’ll have learn how to manage a squad of congressional Republicans with self-defeating tendencies.

Here are four takeaways from Trump’s speech:

1. How Trump Stated the Union’s State. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama entered office amidst rocky economies. George W. Bush came to Washington needing to prove his legitimacy after losing the popular vote and a prolonged legal challenge.

For Trump, it’s a little from column A, a lot from column B. The economy’s a mixed message: stocks have never been higher; Target, the epitome of Main Street America, is struggling thanks to the digital monster that is Amazon. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats refuse to grant Trump presidential stature.

In a realigned Washington, a Republican president now touts victimhood (bad trade deals stealing American jobs; illegal aliens preying on lawful citizens). Congressional Democrats bemoan government over-reach in the form of Obamacare stepped-up immigration enforcement.

Throughout the evening, Trump didn’t go off on a tangent. Congressional Democrats sat stonily. Nowadays, that passes for a good evening in the nation’s capital.

2. The State of Trump’s State. The 45th president entered his first joint address to Congress with a 39 percent approval rating, per the Fox News Poll (Obama was at 60 percent at the same point in 2009).

The good news: it’s worlds better than Congress’ 17 percent approval in the same poll. The bad news: it’s not the best of leveraging positions.

What does work for Trump is the novelty of his appearing in prime time television (as a politician, that is) working off a TelePrompter and having an adult conversation with the American public. Unlike the a.m. version of Trump – the one prone to manic tweeting and extemporaneous remarks at press avails that set off dumpster fires – the p.m. version is less abrasive and makes a more convincing case that he’s serious about the job and has a lot of ideas that makes sense.

It may be asking too much to ask Trump to give up the stream-of-consciousness tweeting for Lent.

What he should consider: more speeches like this and town hall venues outside the beltway, where the presidential agenda has far more resonance – with Democrats representing districts that didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in a tough spot.

3. Reality Check. Trump was expected to talk at length about ObamaCare repeal, in part to defang criticism about Medicaid cuts crippling state budgets and the currently insured set adrift (another Trump peace-offering to Democrats: pre-existing conditions still get coverage).

— Just hours after the White House hinted it’s open to a deal on immigration reform, Trump talked about immigration through the context of drug-smuggling, the border wall and controlled entry into the U.S. There was no mention of DREAM-ers or dealing with sanctuary cities.

— Trump’s call for bipartisanship included fair trade and a new “border tax” – not “drain the swamp” reforms such as lobbying restrictions that were mentioned earlier in the address (and met with Democratic sarcasm).

— Trump’s highlighting Pompe Disease survivor Megan Crowley was a reminder of this president’s populist instincts, just as the prolonged applause for Navy widow Carryn Owen was Reagan-level poignancy? Want to unite voters? Point out the high cost of medicine and the FDA’s burdensome process, or one family’s sacrifice to its country.

— While the economy got large play, the specifics of tax reform didn’t. The president made a vague reference to reducing for businesses and families, but didn’t give it the same play as infrastructure investment or regulatory reform. One imagines that Wall Street was hoping for more.

4. Can Anyone Play This Game? It’s the question Casey Stengel once asked while pondering the expansion New York Mets of 1962 infamy. Dealt an inside straight in this election – control of two branches of government; an opposition party long on dissent but short on substance – can the GOP capitalize on its good fortune?

It’s been almost 1,000 hours since Barack Obama left office. To the extent the left has complained about the former president, it would be: despite talking a big game (climate change, gun control) he didn’t engage with Congress on a personal level to win over lawmakers.

Now that Trump has lent his voice to policy choices, he has a choice. He can sit back and trust Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to do the driving. Or, he can work with the congressional leadership to keep the flock from straying.

This isn’t to suggest that Trump should rent a copy of HBO’s “All The Way” and mimic Lyndon Johnson’s handholding and arm-twisting. But perhaps it’s time to shift gears and push for the agenda in the same struggling economic pockets that made the politically impossible last fall.

On a night when nothing historically lasting was uttered, it’s how this president will be judged: by results, not fancy words or extended olive branches.

Source

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/28/four-big-takeaways-and-four-shocking-surprises-from-trumps-speech.html