Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The major difference between President Trump’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night and a typical Trump political rally was neither his re-election campaign nor the Republican National Committee had to pay for it. The President showed how much he truly enjoys the pomp and ceremony of the office. He wanted to enjoy the SOTU evening so much that he even jumped ahead of Speaker Pelosi’s traditional, formal introduction of the President.
Another difference was that the President read the speech from a teleprompter and only had one ad-lib line. The content as well as the style of delivery was not new, and the President used all his typical rally techniques.
The speech was long and filled with numerous introductions of invited guests which gave the entire nation an opportunity to pause from the partisan hostility and for the President to bask in the attention. For the President’s base his speech was red meat. For that audience he could say nothing wrong. He united his followers and the President immediately received a bump in the post SOTU polls.
On the other hand, President Trump was speaking to a significant part of the audience in attendance which was not on his side; yet, he appeared to relish the chance to attack the Democrats. For the congressional audience the President made it very clear that he was not interested in negotiating on the “wall” in the homeland security appropriations bill. Speaking to Members of both parties, the President also re-asserted his intention to proceed with troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan.
The real attack came with Trump’s charge to the House Democrats not to commence any investigations. Knowing he was foretelling by only a few days the first of the congressional investigations, the President set the stage for what might well become very long drawn out fights with congressional committees and subsequently in the courts. The question will be whether Trump officials will willingly or by subpoena be prepared to give testimony to Congress or will the battle of executive privilege make it way all the way to the Supreme Court.
With respect to a new partial Government shut-down the President avoided the specific threat. There was a sense that Trump was listening to Senator McConnell that the damage to Trump and the Republicans was far too great to consider another shut-down on February 15. How the conference committee will reconcile these issues is not clear, but one senses that a partial, non-concrete wall may eventually be able to gain enough support to pass. McConnell also knows that there is another battle looming over raising the debt ceiling coming in March/April, so the Majority Leader has urged the White House to accept Congress’ action completing all the pending appropriations bills now.
Except for the budget which the President will send to Congress later this month, all other action in Washington will now be in Democratic hands. Therefore, the President was pleased to announce his forthcoming meeting in Viet Nam with North Korean President Kim Jong-un at the end of February. If Trump also arranges a meeting during that trip with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he would hope to distract the country from what could well be a very polarizing time at home. Assuming there could be some reduction in the trade wars with China, President Trump even might be able to regain some confidence from American businesses which have been suffering from the increased tariffs.