March 1 2017
He always told us he could act presidential and last night he did.
President Donald Trump broke no new ground in terms of policies (here is the prepared text), but he was gracious and made his points better than at any time in the past. As Rich Lowry notes this morning:
I agree with everyone that it was the best Trump speech yet. It’s been mystifying for a while why Trump wouldn’t just do a few simple things to sound a little more unifying and normal, and tonight he did them. He denounced bigotry, struck an optimistic tone, invoked the American story, associated himself with many sympathetic people in the balcony and ended by saying God created us equal. None of this is difficult to do or costs Trump anything. Indeed, Trump delivered his core message, in way that was domesticated to the presidency. A key question is whether if he gets out of his own way a little bit and let’s the haze of constant controversy lift, his polices will actually have some of the cross-partisan appeal you might except.
The Wall Street Journal praised Trump for being "calm and measured" and "even better" for his "tone of relative optimism." The Journal faulted him for not going more into tax reform but suggested that this reflected indecision within the president's team on how to handle this.
The speech certainly wasn't a restatement of the GOP's traditional conservative philosophy, as Rich Lowry goes on to observe:
It was truly bizarre to see Republicans standing and cheering the passages on protectionism and infrastructure spending, but this is the change Trump has wrought in the party. We still don’t know where Trump will end up policy-wise on these matters–he seemed to tip-toe up to endorsing a border adjustment tax, but he didn’t go all the way, and he mentioned the $1 trillion number on infrastructure without explicitly saying it would all be more spending. He was also vague on the Obamacare replacement. I thought his endorsement of a tax credit might be significant, but I’m told it doesn’t really push the debate on Capitol Hill one way or the other.
A few other observations:
The over-promising was remarkable even in a forum where every president over-promises.
Besides Gorsuch, there was zero social conservatism in the speech.
Actually, I would slightly differ on the last: praising the police, which the president did, and making references to God count more than a coded reference to the issue of abortion, and most social conservatives recall that the Trump administration gave unprecedented support to the March for Life. I am guessing that that constituency went away feeling pleased about the speech. The Obama administration left a low bar on social conservatism: not suing nuns to violate their consciences now qualifies as support for religious liberty.
The dubious practice of introducing presidential guests (President Reagan was the first to do this) to frame policies or give tone often falls flat. It can come across as a cheap trick. But last night it was excellent. We could all be proud of the guests in the first lady's box and of and what their presence says about the United States.
David French this morning called Carryn Owens, one of President Trump's guests and the widow of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, "the face of sacrifice." Of Mrs. Owens, French writes:
It’s a distinctive face. There’s the indescribable pain, but it’s mixed with the deepest pride. Because Carryn Owens had the courage to attend such a public gathering so soon after her great loss, we saw how raw and so very real it is to give to your nation the people most precious to you. That sacrifice is why we owe our Gold Star families the deepest respect, why they’re revered in military ranks, and why — just for a moment — a nation can unite to give honor to whom honor is most certainly due.
Other guests were a father whose son had been killed by an illegal immigrant, Denisha Merriweather, a successful young woman who had been failing in school until she was able to attend a better school on a voucher, another young woman who had survived a rare disease and now attends Notre Dame (the president used her to argue that the FDA is slow to approve life-saving drugs), and Maureen Scalia, wife of the last Supreme Court Justice.
Towards the end, the seventy-year-old president seemed to be falling into some of his rhetorical ticks (repetitions) and so supporters should be glad it ended when it did. But the whole evening shows he is capable of learning.
The Democrats made a wise decision not to boo or be disruptive but the camera occasional panned their side of the chamber, as they sat on their hands. The face of Nancy Pelosi was something to behold. It's how I used to look when sent to detention hall in high school.
Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic women showed up in all-white outfits, a form of protest developed by the Democratic Women's Working Group in the House. It's was supposed to represent the suffragist movement, which called on women to wear white as a sign of purity. Vox helpfully explained:
According to the statement, Women’s Working Group members are fighting for women’s rights like equal pay, paid sick and family leave, retirement security, the right to live “lives free from fear and violence,” and access to affordable child care and affordable health care — “including reproductive health services like those offered by Planned Parenthood.”
So I guess that's purity 2.0.