New York: It was so Trumpian. US president Donald Trump, profoundly weakened by looming legal and political peril and surrounded by a sea of freshman Democrats dressed in suffragette white, checked off the box on his second State of the Union (SOTU) calling for an end to "ridiculous partisan investigations" - alluding to the Robert Mueller probe, "foolish wars", the "politics of revenge" and then insisting that the economy is a "miracle" and that he will "build the wall" along the US Mexico border.
"If there's going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be foolish wars and partisan investigations", said Trump, in the oddest moment of the entire evening, a moment that left half the House suppressing its laughter and the other half awkwardly quiet. Trump's speech, pockmarked with incorrect grammar and syntax, mixed in soaring prose with strong language on immigration that tied right into his base which voted for him in 2016. Trump used gory language on abortion and sent a veiled warning that there will be no legislation if "partisan investigations" don't end.
In saying this, Trump just added another Nixonian parallel to his chaotic presidency. US president Richard Nixon too called for an end to the Watergate investigations during his 1974 State of the Union address. Trump, after 37 minutes of staying on message, came into his own as he pivoted to his all-base, all-the-time strategy: stories of illegal immigration, his border wall project, blood and gore. Trump offered a preview of his 2020 campaign, and fear will be its reigning idiom.
"Presidential power is the power to persuade. If a president loses the ability to bring other players along with him, he is lost," says Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt in his book Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents.
With his own party warning Trump not to declare a national emergency in his speech, Trump's first SOTU since the Democrats won the House in the biggest 'blue wave' election since Watergate was one he delivered (politically) on his knees, with a powerful woman looming over his left shoulder. But it's not over even after its over. Trump has had a pattern of coming up with his most bizarre tweets immediately after a big speech. But even there, Democrats have taken the fight to his doorstep, blasting him on his preferred platform: Twitter.
Sorry, sir. But Article 1 of the Constitution is the legislative branch. And it has the responsibility to exercise oversight of the other branches of government. We would be delinquent in our duties if we failed to provide the necessary oversight. #SOTU
— Nancy Pelosi (@TeamPelosi) February 6, 2019
Let's not forget the circumstances of this particular SOTU. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi denied Trump this stage when he refused to budge on the shutdown. He got it back when he caved and there's a 15 February deadline looming again. The political spectacle today is a lollipop handed to Trump by a hardline negotiator.
Trump spent the first half hour saying things he has never said before, which nobody in the Opposition is buying, "Victory is not winning for our party, victory is winning for our country... We must reject the politics of revenge and retribution," said the US president who has spent the last two years engaging in bitter personal attacks.
Trump's non-Trumpian quotes drew eye rolls and subdued laughter on the Democratic side. Trump is not used to standing in a crowd where the majority of the people are not on his team. Today was that kind of day. Trump walked in and saw at least five of his opponents look him straight in the eye, many of them women who are running for president in 2020.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: "I'm glad that President Trump is going to be the warm-up act for Stacey Abrams." #SOTU #SOTU2019 https://t.co/yOuvaT7axC pic.twitter.com/cuyo9WDE13 — The Hill (@thehill) February 6, 2019
The optics were inescapable. Behind Trump sat Nancy Pelosi, the lady who has stonewalled Trump, a symbol of split screen Washington, of the lame duck phase of Trump's presidency.
Trump's approval rating is at 37 percent — lower than almost every other president at this point in time. But then again, these were the exact numbers before his 2016 win. With another shutdown deadline looming, the president has few options for getting Congress to fund a border wall, and he risks further alienating his own party if he tries to circumvent lawmakers by declaring a national emergency instead.
In the Democratic response by rising star Stacey Abrams, the spotlight was firmly on Trump's shutdown — "a political stunt engineered by this president that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values."
"America is made stronger by immigrants, not walls", said Abrams.
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Updated Date: Feb 06, 2019 11:55:52 IST