Critics may find all kind of reasons to dislike the positions laid out by President Donald Trump in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, but two regular charges against the president won’t fly.
One, Trump proved he could deliver a forceful, to-the-point, stick-to-the-text address. Friend and foe alike will have to acknowledge that he was “presidential.”
Second, for a White House organization often portrayed as is in disarray, the scripting of the State of the Union presentation was masterful. It had all the marks of a professional presentation, particularly with regard to the guests Trump brought to the Capitol to reinforce key points of his address.
Seated near first lady Melania Trump, the guests reflected Trump’s stance on immigration, law enforcement, the military and the economy.
• Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas: Two sets of parents whose respective children were murdered. The MS-13 gang is said to be responsible for their deaths.
• Celestino “CJ” Martinez: A supervisory special agent for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit who works to dismantle the MS-13 gang.
• Ryan Holets: A police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He and his wife adopted a baby from opioid-addicted parents.
• Jon Bridgers: Founder of the rescue organization the Cajun Navy, which helps people respond to flooding across the South. The Cajun Navy helped in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
• David Dahlberg: A fire prevention technician stationed in Southern California who saved 62 people from wildfires.
• Ashlee Leppert: A U.S. Coast Guard aviation electronics technician who rescued women and children during the 2017 hurricane season.
• Retired Cpl. Matthew Bradford: The first blind, double amputee to re-enlist in the Marines after losing his legs and his sight in Iraq in 2007.
• Staff Sgt. Justin Peck: A staff sergeant in the Army who saved Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy’s life in Raqqa, Syria.
• Preston Sharp: He started the Flag and Flower Challenge to honor fallen veterans at their gravesites.
• Corey Adams: A welder at Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, Ohio, who bought his first house with his wife last year.
• Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger: Brother and sister owners of Staub Manufacturing Solutions, which said it gave employees larger Christmas bonuses because of the recent changes to the tax law.
Any observer had to be impressed.
But as the president, and in particular the guests, were receiving the expected applause, many Democrats from both the House and Senate sat stone-faced and offered no reaction. It was not their finest hour, with even some from their own party saying the president deserves respect even when he is espousing positions with which political foes disagree. And not applauding for the guests was a mistake.
But Democrats’ reaction likely speaks to the futility of Trump’s call for unity, which in and of itself may have been more about lip service than real expectation.
It is an election year. As much as Trump and Republicans are trying to establish that major shifts in policy in the president’s first year are a big success, Democrats are determined to seize on Trump’s popularity problems with an eye toward major gains in congressional races in November. They envision taking control of both the Senate and House.
Toward that end, there is little or no likelihood that an agreement of real substance is going to be reached on the contentious immigration issue that threatens another government shutdown in days. Trump has offered a major compromise on a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers – kids brought to this country by their parents – but only if Democrats will go along with the president’s desire to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Trump is taking a chance with his base on the immigration compromise, but he is hoping to force the hand of Democrats to get his way on other immigration reforms.
But Democrats know that giving in the president on the wall and other proposals to curb both legal and illegal immigration is a potential political disaster. They see any cooperation with Trump as repulsive to their base supporters.
So Washington will continue as partisan battlefield where too little is accomplished by either side – at least until after voters have a say on Trump and the Republican leadership come November.
And whether the outcome tilts “blue” or “red,” there is little reason to believe the positions left and right will soften enough to see any kind of spirit of unity as called for by the president.