The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Strong Speech

Here’s my take on the State of the Union address.

I thought it was a very strong effort, both substantively and emotionally powerful.

The White House had a plan, and the president executed it. President Trump wanted to convey optimism about the country and a sense of his achievements thus far, based primarily on the performance of the economy. It’s no accident that the speech began with the good news about job and wage growth and a celebration of the tax-cut legislation. That part of the speech was, in all candor, a no-brainer; the economy is growing, and the tax bill is part of the reason.

The remarkable and immediate response of so many American companies to the tax cuts — the bonuses, wage increases, and plans to invest in the United States — are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It looks like Larry Kudlow was right.

Many conservatives are criticizing the Democrats for not applauding at the economic good news that the president cited. But the Democrats were in a box on this one. If they applauded, it would look like they agreed with what the president was saying — and remember that six weeks ago they not only voted against the tax bill but predicted doom if it passed. On the other hand, not applauding made them look churlish. They might have compromised by applauding perfunctorily, but there’s a good chance that would have pleased no one.

It was a tough position to be in, but that’s what happens when the facts on the ground prove you so wrong so quickly, and your political opponents have a high-profile occasion to take advantage of it.

The president did a good job of reaching out to the other side of the aisle while at the same time giving his own supporters plenty to cheer about. The speech was at its most substantive when the president laid out the “four pillars” of his immigration proposal. It was a welcome sign that the White House is prepared to fight out the immigration issue on the merits; I think it will force the Democrats to debate the substance as well. The phrase “Americans are dreamers too” was both a memorable line and a good argument; it emphasized Trump’s main point, which was that immigration policy, like all federal policy, should have as its object advancing the interests of the people of the United States.

I was very pleased when the president called for the end of the defense sequester. I would have liked to see him develop the point — it would have been a perfect addition to the economic pitch at the beginning of the speech, because defense spending is so good for manufacturing and innovation — but at least he went on the record with what he wants.

I was a big infrastructure senator, and I liked the emphasis in the speech on that issue. It will be difficult to come up with the financing that the president called for, but he was right to highlight the importance of reducing the regulations and delays that increase costs.

The speech was lengthy, but didn’t seem as long as it was. Maybe that’s because there were so many powerful individual stories of suffering and sacrifice. I thought the president handled all of those well. For all Trump’s toughness, I get the sense that he really does empathize with the people he introduced tonight, and others like them.

The story of Ji Seong-ho was the right way to wrap up the speech. Telling the truth about North Korea hits the regime at one of its most vulnerable points. It also signaled Trump’s understanding of the hope America represents to the world. The picture of Seong-ho holding up his crutches is one Americans will remember.

It’s been a good week for the Trump administration. With two strong speeches — at Davos and now in the House chamber — Trump has gone a long way towards pulling together the parts of his unruly coalition, reaching out to non-aligned Americans, and putting the Democrats on the defensive. If he continues in this vein, his political opponents are going to have to begin engaging on the issues. Given the good news about the economy, and with a substantive debate on immigration, infrastructure, and defense just beginning, Resistance alone isn’t going to be enough to get the Democrats to November.

Jim Talent, as a former U.S. senator from Missouri, chaired the Seapower Subcommittee. He is currently the chairman of the National Leadership Council at the Reagan Institute.

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