The overwrought ritual known as the State of the Union address revisits us tonight. The link between presidential pronouncements in this annual speech and actual policy-making afterward has grown tenuous in recent years, because of partisan bickering as well as intraparty disagreements. Still, given the way the national narrative continues to be set in large part by the president, whoever he is at the time, it will be interesting to hear what President Trump says tonight.
Two points to watch:
On immigration, will Trump defend or back off the framework the White House laid out last week? There was praise for it in some quarters, notably Georgia’s Sen. David Perdue, who has been working on a reform of legal immigration to the U.S.:
On the other hand, some prominent immigration restrictionists on the right, both nationally and locally, have been harsh in their criticism of the framework as an amnesty that provides an eventual path to citizenship for DACA recipients:
So, will Trump, whose most consistent quality as a politician is being attuned to his base on this particular issue, step away from those elements of the framework? Will he try to persuade his base this is the right way to get the other things they want? Will he lash out at Democrats who have been critical of other elements of the framework? This may be the most important thing to watch in the speech.
Second, will Trump seek to build on the economic momentum coming from tax reform by announcing his long-awaited infrastructure plan? That was another key element of his campaign, and a big reason he won support from many blue-collar workers in places that haven’t gone for Republicans in some time. It’s also a chance to get the upper hand on Democrats if they oppose him, since they have been calling for this kind of spending for years if not decades; to oppose it now would reek of sheer partisanship. And, if done right, it could actually yield long-term benefits for the economy in addition to the short-term boost from construction jobs (note the part about “if done right” -- it certainly could be done poorly).
Setting aside both of those, however, let’s acknowledge there’s also always the same wild card as in any Trump speech: the possibility he’ll say something outrageous that takes away attention from everything else he says.
We’ve seen Trump be disciplined and thoughtful in these set-piece speeches before (if not always afterward), and a strong speech tonight could give the GOP more momentum for the rest of thir work this year and into the midterms this November. So, as always, the main question is: Which Trump will show up?