I thought President Trump gave a politically effective speech. I don’t think it was particularly bipartisan. Which is not that notable save for the fact that the White House billed it all day as a bridge-building, nationally unifying speech. And it really wasn’t. It wasn’t intensely partisan either. It just felt a little like a bait-and-switch given all the messaging today.
While way too long, the first — and most important — 20 minutes on the economy were particularly good. The story Trump has to tell on that front is a good one, and he has as much right to brag as any president does at these things, and on some fronts more than most. (How much credit presidents deserve for the economy is a subject for another day.) The Democrats certainly did themselves no favors by refusing to applaud job growth and higher wages.
I thought the lowest point was the long digression on MS-13 as a pressing domestic enemy. While I have no problem with any effort to degrade and destroy that gang — many of whose members were born here — I thought that portion hyperbolic and exploitative. While I have no doubt he was sincere, it was also clearly an attempt to throw some red meat to the base before he laid out his immigration plan, which is decidedly not aimed at the base.
But the most striking thing about the speech was how much it fell into an almost Trumpian version of compassionate conservatism — as if the tea parties had never existed. This was for the most part a conservative speech culturally and thematically. But except for some laudable bits about streamlining the bureaucracy and improving FDA policy, there wasn’t a hint of fiscal conservatism to it. Trump wants a huge increase in infrastructure spending and an end to the sequester for military spending, but he never mentioned the debt or deficit. Well, there was one mention of the word “deficit” — the “infrastructure deficit.” And he endorsed a new entitlement — paid family leave — while failing to mention any effort to reform the existing entitlements.
I’m not sure it matters politically. But I’m pretty sure it does economically and philosophically.