Live from Washington: State of the Union Preview By Luke Perry
Donald Trump will give his first State of the Union Address on Tuesday evening. The address is mandated by Article II Section III of the Constitution that states the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Modern presidents typically use the speech to highlight the accomplishments of the previous year and identify the legislative priorities of the upcoming year. This is part of the agenda-setting role undertaken by the president in American government. Presidents also ordinarily emphasize how the state of the union is “strong.” Early indications are that President Trump will follow suit.
The theme for President Trump will be “building a safe, strong, and proud America.” The administration has said this will include discussion of five priorities: 1) jobs; 2) infrastructure; 3) immigration; 4) trade; and 5) national security.
Recent national polling has found that Americans want President to discuss healthcare, the economy, and terrorism most of all. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to watch the speech. Even though the economy is doing well, typically a bell weather for presidential popularity, Trump’s lower than normal popularity appears to be connected to perceptions of him personally.
Majorities of Americans think he is “reckless,” “profane,” and “sexist.” Meanwhile, just around one-third of Americans find him to be “compassionate,” “honest,” ‘stable” and “trustworthy.”
The good news for President Trump is that his first address to Congress was widely considered among his best speeches as president. USA Today wrote the president painted “a broadly optimistic, heroic picture of America.” The Washington Post described him as “surprisingly presidential.” The White House maintains a full list of “editorial praise” for the speech with other examples.
A disciplined articulation of what the administration has accomplished and why Americans should feel good about the direction of the country under the president’s leadership will be vital to building on Trump’s first joint address to Congress.
For some of Trump’s presumed goals, such as taking an “economic victory lap,” this should be relatively easy. For others, such as persuading Congress of his immigration and infrastructure plans, and setting the stage for the midterm, this will be more challenging given the political environment following the recent government shutdown.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry), Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College, on site from Washington DC.