Live from Washington: Will Donald Trump Become The Next Bill Clinton? By Luke Perry
President Trump began his first State of the Union in a quiet, somber, and paced manner as he sought to communicate in measured fashion with an emphasis on heroic deeds reflecting American greatness. “The state of our union is strong,” the President explained, “because our people are strong.”
The speech was previewed by his aides as positive and bipartisan. There were several nods to patriotism, particularly at the outset, though this faded. President Trump punctuated his economic credit claiming with the best line of the night: “there has never been a better time to start living the American dream.”
Subsequent policy discussion clearly articulated challenges and a broad vision for what is needed, but limited details in terms of legislative specifics. Emphasis was given to conservative values as the President noticeably favored the teleprompter with his fellow Republicans seated behind it. Intentional or not, the result was that President Trump appeared physically and rhetorically to be mostly speaking to his supporters.
The challenge Trump faces is how rebuild his popular base to 2016 election levels and expand this into a majority. Given the highly polarized political climate, the task will not be easy.
The president has a model in Bill Clinton, who defied expectations electorally and whose presidency got off to a difficult start personally and politically. Clinton’s success was contingent moving to the center and compromising with Republicans. Trump has begun the year taking a few steps in that direction, particularly in regards to immigration and infrastructure, but the details matter.
Democrats appear willing to support a narrow deal providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers coupled with funding for increased border security. There is little support on the left for ending "chain migration," as the president calls it, or "family reunification," as Democrats call it, and lowering overall immigration totals.
Meanwhile, infrastructure was widely viewed as the hallmark bipartisan issue at the outset of the Trump presidency. The shifting of federal funding to states and localities will be hard to absorb and Democrats are leery of Trump subsidizing private sector builders.
So there is an opportunity for the president to make deals, but he will likely have to give more than he currently appears ready to. What to look to for is whether this happens in the coming months or if the policy status quo remains in place until the midterm campaign is over. Should the latter happen, the anticipated losses for the GOP (given historical norms surrounding low presidential popularity coupled with many open seats in Congress) may end unified government and provide no other alternative.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry), Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College, on site from Washington DC.