Last things, first: No, the State of the Union did not mark a turning point in the presidency of Donald Trump.
The real Trump was on display when he told television anchors on Tuesday that former Vice President Joe Biden was dumb and that he himself never made gaffes. The real Trump administration was on display when it admitted, in a court filing, that some parents will never be reunited with the children from whom they were forcibly separated, and when the former tea party congressman–turned–acting Trump chief of staff told supporters that no one cares about the deficit.
Petty, cruel, hypocritical — among other adjectives.
But imagine for a second that Trump on Tuesday was delivering not a State of the Union but an inaugural address.
“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” told the prime-time joint session.
(The actual Trump inaugural address in 2017 was best remembered for a pledge to fight “American carnage.”)
Within the State of the Union was the blueprint for an undistracted Trump presidency: working with Republicans on security, taxes and regulation, working with Democrats on spending and social issues, alongside an isolationist foreign policy and protectionist trade policy.
Polls show it could have been a popular combination. It was what some percentage of the population thought it was getting when Trump was elected in November 2016.
Imagine a Trump without tweets, without deception, without corruption, without disdain for foreign allies or previous standards of presidential behavior.
On Tuesday night, America got a glimpse into that world — one that, it should be emphasized, is consistent with his worldview, and not with that of establishment Democrats and Republicans like Hillary Clinton or Paul Ryan. It’s the Trump administration that could’ve been.
Back in the reality realm were the mocking claps of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Trump called for rejecting the politics of “revenge, resistance and retribution” and issued pleas to drop the multitude of investigations into his administration, campaign and inauguration.
Back, too, in reality were the prepared fibs — such as his claim that the economy was twice as strong as it had been when Barack Obama was president — and the ad-libbed lies, such as making up on the spot that he favors an increase in legal immigration when his administration in fact has backed legislation calling for a drastic cut.
Back in reality is the strong likelihood of outrage he’ll now be met with in El Paso, Texas, when his re-election campaign ramps up there next Monday.
Reality, it should be stressed, doesn’t preclude a second Trump term. He has a game plan that consists of firing up his base while trying to raise doubts about his opponents, whether it’s Elizabeth Warren’s Native American roots, Biden’s missteps, or whatever he can dredge up about Kamala Harris or Beto O’Rourke or whomever emerges from the Democratic side of the 2020 electoral bracket.
It’s not an obvious path with someone so underwater in favorability, but not an impossible path to re-election.
And at the very least, the State of the Union shows Trump has access to decent writers to help him craft a message.
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