President Trump’s first State of the Union address set a new standard. For himself. If he lives up to that standard in future speeches, he may go far in changing his image from a blustering, ad-libbing “entertainer,” to someone who looks and sounds, shall I say it, more “presidential.”
The speech was well-crafted, delivered in a mostly low-key manner and timed perfectly to link themes with flesh-and-blood guests in the balcony. It didn’t hurt that first lady Melania Trump looked stunning in an all-white suit and caused jaws to drop as she descended the balcony stairs to her seat.
The president appealed to Democrats to find “common ground” on important issues, but the TV cameras showed members on the Democratic side of the aisle with facial expressions that looked like they were in after-school detention. Never has there been a more morose image presented to the American public.
Mr. Trump had better be careful about reaching out to Democrats. When George H.W. Bush extended his hand to House Speaker Jim Wright, Texas Democrat, Mr. Wright and his fellow Democrats effectively cut it off by proposing tax increases and forcing Mr. Bush into a compromised 1990 budget agreement. It cost Mr. “read my lips” the 1992 election.
When it comes to the Democrats, too many Republicans have the notion expressed in the film “Chicago” where Queen Latifah sings, “When you’re good to Mama, Mama’s good to you.” Better to win the argument and defeat the other side’s ideas than to play nice and have your pocket picked.
In what could be the most memorable line of the evening, Mr. Trump countered the label used by the left to describe the children of immigrants whose parents broke the law to come to America. He said, “Americans are dreamers, too.”
Some of his strongest supporters might be irked that the president offered a “path to citizenship” for the children of undocumented immigrants. He put their number at 1.8 million. Conditions include a good education, ability to work and good moral character. After 12 years, he said, they can apply for citizenship. Democrats are likely to oppose that. They want their votes now.
At a small gathering of pundits at the White House on Monday, the president said he picked the 1.8 million figure believing Democrats would reject it, and that he would return to the original 700,000 if they did. He also would end chain migration, allowing only spouses and the children of those already here to enter the country. And he would end the visa lottery, which he said “randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.” The promise of a “wall” was mentioned again.
The president promised to keep Guantanamo open. He promised future foreign aid would go “only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.” And he promised “maximum pressure” on North Korea because of its nuclear program and pledged support for Iranians, who want to take their country back from clerics.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Massachusetts Democrat, delivered the Democratic response from Fall River, Mass. Mr. Kennedy had a small audience that tried to replicate some of the applause and standing ovations the president received. His youth made him appear as though he were delivering a college valedictorian speech.
Mr. Kennedy dragged out the usual victims (Democrats are the party of victims, not overcomers), including evil corporations, racism, denial of civil rights, white supremacists marching in the streets, “anxious, angry and afraid” Americans, transgender individuals and the failure to give “workers” their “fair share.” Wait until money from the tax cuts shows up in their paychecks and then ask “workers” how they feel.
The president was optimistic and forward-looking, while Mr. Kennedy was mostly negative and looked backward. Advantage Trump. If he maintains the discipline he demonstrated Monday, Mr. Trump’s approval ratings and his chances of getting some of his agenda passed in Congress may quickly improve.
• Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).