News and Events

2018-01-31 00:00:01

U.S. Professor on President Trump's State of the Union Speech

jav--profesoriaus-davido-schultzo-paskaita-8129 Hamline University Political Science Dept. Prof. David Schultz says U.S. President Donald Trump's 2018 State of the Union speech was simultaneously predictable and surprising.  

It was surprising due to being less combative than is generally characteristic of his speeches.  For those who expected to see an angry, out-of-control President Trump, that surprisingly did not happen, said the U.S. elections expert.

Every president uses the State of the Union to claim credit for all the good things that are happening. Facts are often slain in the interest of self-promotion.  President Trump did that with the economy, for example.  But President Trump remained true to himself in terms of exaggerating the scope and impact of his tax cuts overall (not the largest in U.S. history) and in terms of claiming that the middle class are the main beneficiaries.  

President Trump also exaggerated how much he accomplished in terms of regulatory reform or what he has done for energy, coal, and health care reform. He clearly claimed more credit for job and wage growth, company job investment, and stock market gains than was true or accurate.

In addition, President Trump straddled playing to his base on issues such as health care and immigration, especially his story about individuals murdered by immigrants and MS13 gangs. The same was true with reference to the phrase chain immigration. This all works well with the base, but will continue to divide and alienate others.

President Trump tried to set a tone that might appeal to swing voters in hope of recapturing votes in light of his and the GOP's low approval ratings in anticipation of the 2018 elections.

Finally, he outlined goals on infrastructure, world trade, paid family leave, prison reform, and protecting other workers, even though it is not clear that he has a clear plan or proposals for any of these issues, or that he necessarily has Republican or Democrat votes.  

If he could move on prison reform, paid family leave, and infrastructure, he might be able to capture some swing voters.

Notably also, but no surprise, that there was no discussion of the Mueller Russian investigation or troubles plaguing his administration that will continue to dog or hamper his presidency.

President Trump also understated or ignored the foreign policy and diplomatic challenges he faces across the world, many of which he created or intensified.

Finally, there are three last thoughts.  

When President Trump declared this was a new American moment, it reminds one of President Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” moment, in an effort to appeal to swings and hit a high unity note.

But his immigration talk will be divisive. His "America First" rhetoric will overshadow many of his positives.  

Overall, Republicans and his base will like the speech. Democrats will dislike it. At best, only a few independents or swings will be swayed by his words.  

Finally, this is only one speech and it probably will have minimal lasting effect in terms of changing public opinion. One needs to see how President Trump in words, tweets, and acts follows up on what he said.