After a roller-coaster ride during his first six weeks in office, Mr. Trump faced a choice: Take another victory lap with a narrow speech tailored to his base, or try something radically different.
Mr. Trump took the road less traveled, and the benefit from his decision will be significant.
No person who is elected president of the United States is ever really prepared for the office. The job is singular, and each new occupant must grow into the job. Choosing to deliver a serious, unifying, sober and optimistic address to Congress shows that Mr. Trump can grow and adapt.
By paying tribute to Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, killed on a recent raid in Yemen, and honoring his widow, Carryn, who was in the House gallery, Mr. Trump reminded us all of the tremendous sacrifices that our bravest Americans make every day.
“Our veterans have delivered for this nation — and now we must deliver for them. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” the president said.
It was a helpful reminder of what really matters in this hyperpartisan and divided chapter in our nation’s history.
The 30.6 million people who watched the address live saw Mr. Trump appear presidential, perhaps in a new way for many viewers.
As NBC News political analyst Mark Halperin rightly said Wednesday morning, “In the short political career of Donald J. Trump, this was his best speech.”
Faced with recent examples of Trumpian oratory that were merely adequate, as his Republican National Convention speech and inaugural address were, Mr. Trump wanted something more.
His senior team in the White House, including speechwriter Stephen Miller, Vice President Mike Pence and countless others, deserve great credit for pulling together to deliver a first-class speech text. In a remarkable setting, under tremendous pressure, Mr. Trump flawlessly delivered it to a divided Congress, effectively muting much of the overhyped criticism from his Democratic detractors.
Can a speech like this solve the president’s problems? We may soon find out.
The question now is twofold: Can the White House build on this success, and can Mr. Trump sell his agenda on Capitol Hill?
It now appears that the White House will be spending political capital on three major issues in the administration’s first two years: repealing and replacing Obamacare, passing tax reform, and securing the border and reforming our immigration system. The exact sequencing is still to be determined.
It appears that tax reform may be possible within the reconciliation process, which would require only 51 votes in the U.S. Senate and could be passed on a party-line basis.
Obamacare also can be repealed using reconciliation, but passing a replacement bill will require 60 votes, requiring at least eight Democratic senators to support any legislation before it can reach Mr. Trump’s desk.
Strengthening border security may be achievable without changing existing law, but additional federal funding will obviously be necessary, and some wild estimates likely have overstated what will be required. Despite multiple reports that Mr. Trump might be softening on the question of the legal status of those in the U.S. illegally, he did not address that question in this address.
What really matters now is whether Mr. Trump’s successful speech makes it more or less likely that his legislative agenda will pass in the coming days and months. Even so, there can be no doubt: Mr. Trump will benefit from this.
Snap polling shows that those who watched were positive about the speech, and the coverage since then will give him momentum and new public support, which will translate into political capital.
Next, the White House needs to complete its legislative agenda, present it to Congress and build popular support. The real work begins now.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a new national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast can be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.
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