The right is calling Tuesday night’s speech to a joint session of Congress the “Reagan moment” that struggling president Donald Trump desperately needed. Indeed, the new commander-in-chief delivered a speech that is widely considered, by almost all viewers, to be far better than his controversial inaugural address. Sticking to his script, Trump remained disciplined and avoided antagonizing his usual foes. Instead of playing the troll and portraying himself as the strongman needed to pull an eroding America out of violence and squalor, as he did on January 20, Donald Trump crafted a polished image and spoke of a bright, unified future.
Trump supporters loved the speech, and some pundits are even opining that the controversial billionaire could win re-election in 2020, a possibility that was considered extremely unlikely until last night. However, those on the left remain unconvinced. Democrats in Congress are hoping that the public focuses more on Trump’s recent actions, especially cabinet nominations like Betsy DeVos and Scott Pruitt, than glowing speeches.
Although Trump did appeal to liberals by calling for a new boom in infrastructure spending, he stuck to his guns on repealing Obamacare. On immigration, he struck a conciliatory tone and implied that he was open to a deal with Dems. Trump’s critics immediately pointed out that the speech, though far more professional than his inaugural address and notorious “tweet storms,” was devoid of details.
There’s no denying it: Despite liberal skepticism, Donald Trump scored a victory last night. The stock market soared this morning, and Trump’s personal show of gratitude and compassion toward the widow of the Navy SEAL killed in the Yemen raid was public relations gold. Many Republicans are breathing sighs of relief, thanking their lucky stars that Trump can still tap into his reality TV magic. Love him or hate him, you have to acknowledge that Trump’s got some talent.
Lest ye forget, Donald Trump did overcome a field of prominent and skilled Republicans, including well-known U.S. Senators and state governors. While much ado has been made about Trump’s tendency to bumble and offend, he did win the Electoral College over the most powerful non-incumbent presidential candidate in U.S. history. All of this he accomplished with zero political, or even public sector, experience. Donald Trump is not to be underestimated.
Now that Trump has shown his true political skills, the stakes are higher for both parties. For Republicans, there is now greater risk because more will be expected from the president. Since Trump has shown that he can behave, he will now be expected to behave. Any future rantings and fumblings will be seen as arrogance, recklessness, or lack of discipline. The next immature tweet storm may be seen by voters, even conservative voters, as disrespectful to the dignity of the presidency.
Donald Trump can win big by staying polished and poised, but he can lose big by reverting to his old ways.
For Democrats, there is a greater risk now in opposing a president who seems more presidential. The public was more supportive of liberal barbs at the commander-in-chief when he seemed like a hostile rube. Now that Trump seems almost Reagan-esque, liberals will be expected to pipe down and give Trump a chance to lead. Obviously, this is an agonizing situation: If Dems sit quietly and wait for Trump to stumble, they may lose momentum and give Trump’s administration a tremendous opening to pass most of their controversial proposals. If Dems continue to attack, they will be seen as trolls- the same thing they once accused many Republicans of being.
Voters are certainly hoping that Trump’s polished speech was the emergence of a true leader, and that his campaign persona was an intentional ruse in order to “play to the crowd.” We are now biting our nails and wondering which version of Donald Trump is real: Campaign Trump, or Speech Trump?
Unfortunately, evidence suggests that Trump’s smooth speech was more PR stunt than genuine persona. The speech only came after numerous offenses to the political status quo: The offensive insinuations of his campaign against immigrants and minorities, the quickly-struck-down travel ban, the condemnation of the mainstream media, and the rampant use of “alternative facts.” If “smooth Trump” is the real Trump, why the period of aggression that alarmed many U.S. citizens?
He cannot take back Betsy DeVos, say “just kidding” about ending federal support for transgender restroom rights, or make us forget about all those civilian federal employees who are likely to be laid off under his administration.
No, citizens must never forget that Donald Trump, like other nefarious politicians of generations past, is one sly cat. Though he likes to play the plain-spoken populist, he is not a true friend of the common man. He is smart, ruthless, and knows how to game the system. From his many bankruptcies to his sly reading of the electorate, Trump is cunning and knows how to escape trouble. It’s more than probable that his eloquent speech to Congress was just another strategy to increase his own power and prestige.
The president deserves kudos for his newfound polish, but real respect will have to be earned the hard way.