Love him or hate him – and there is no in between when Americans look at Donald Trump – we have to admit that the President had his A-game tonight when he delivered his first State of the Union message. Mr. Trump stuck close to his teleprompter and helped redefine his Presidency. He offered us a form of compassionate conservatism, a theme that has generally worked for Republican leaders in the past 40 years. Gone was the edgy warrior, the hyper sensitive tweeter, the reality show bravado. Instead, we saw a mature man who seems to have grown into his job and one who elucidated his principles and his policies about as well as he has ever done. In the process, he not only moved well into the second year of his term but provided a strong and compelling message for Republican candidates in the 2018 elections.
Tonight was Donald Trump the unifier, the optimist, the visionary. He spoke of the progress the United States has made in his first year – 2.4 million new jobs, 200,000 in manufacturing; rising wages, a 45 year low for unemployment claims and the lowest unemployment levels for both African Americans and Hispanics. He noted the record high levels of confidence among small business owners. This tonight was a far different President than the rebellious and angry President who declared a revolution in his inaugural address one year ago.
His signature achievement – major tax cuts and reform – was a big theme in his speech. To date, his opponents have dominated the message that these were tax cuts for the rich. But tonight Mr. Trump specified that most Americans will see substantial cuts, larger deductions, bigger tax credits, more take home pay. He touted how businesses like Apple, Chrysler, Toyota, Mazda, and Exxon Mobil are investing billions of dollars under his watch
He promised elimination of regulations and cited how the FDA has approved more drugs and devices in his first year than ever before. He also crossed the aisle by calling for paid family leave and prison reform.
Mr. Trump also promised a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “Dreamers” – but he also wants his border wall, the closing of loopholes that allow criminals and deadly gang members to enter the US, an end of the visa lottery and “chain migration”. He called for a massive amount of spending for infrastructure renewal but wants a blend of federal and private dollars involved.
Make no mistake, Democrats saw their nemesis – a mean-spirited, nationalist. They did not cheer.
Now there is a dark side to this man. He is often uncontrollable and his own worst enemy. This dark side often brings him to the edge of his own undoing. But that dark side was mainly not visible tonight. His first State of the Union is a reminder of why he often wins his battles. Beware of efforts to sell him short. He hit a solid triple tonight. If he can sustain this message and tone, he will cross home plate standing up. If he reverts to the late night angry and supercilious adolescent, he will get picked off base.