Why is Trump wasting the chance to hype State of the Union speech?

Why is Trump wasting the chance to hype State of the Union speech?
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All eyes will be focused on President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE Tuesday night as he delivers his first State of the Union address to Congress. Given this uniquely captive audience, the chief executive, and the White House by extension, has been notably quiet about it. Trump’s Twitter feed shows no mention of the upcoming event. Few leaks about the speech have made their way into mainstream reporting, whether about what the president is doing to prepare and practice (rehearsals with President George W. Bush were in the Family Theater in the East Wing) or the content itself. It seems a missed opportunity to build buzz.

A senior administration official gave a background briefing to the press pool on Friday, but said relatively little about the speech despite taking more than 35 questions from reporters. Indeed, a different senior administration official warned the press corps at the start that there would be little detail on process or policy items in order to avoid getting “ahead of the president’s speech.” So much for teaser trailers.

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A reporter asked if the president would call on Congress for passage of specific bills. The answer was hardly specific. “Like many State of the Unions, there will be call-outs to Congress for action, sure,” said a senior administration official.

 

The next reporter tried a different tack, acknowledging that while the process was something the briefing officials said they didn’t want to discuss, noting that last year the White House told the press that Trump was working on his Joint Address to Congress at Mar-a-Lago. Was there, the scribe inquired, any color that he could give, such as when they started working on the speech?

“The State of the Union has been thought about for many weeks,” the official replied. “As far as the process, all I’d say about the process is the process begins and ends with the president.”

A third reporter asked the million dollar question: “Why the reluctance to speak about the process?  Can you get into specifics about who is contributing?”

The reply was nearly nonsensical. “Because that's an internal deliberations that weigh on — you know we don't want to go into talking about the process because it's a never-ending set of questions,” the official replied.

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What the briefers did want known is that the theme of the speech is “Building a safe, strong and proud America,” there are five main issues that Trump will address: jobs and the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade and national security, and the president will be talking about his “record-setting accomplishments.” And that’s basically it.

The White House chased the scant briefing with a surrogates call that had originally been slated for 11 am Friday — before the press briefing — but that morning was rescheduled for 1:30 pm on Saturday, half an hour before the embargo expired on the previous day’s event.

The call was reportedly no more informative, with listeners denied even the opportunity to ask questions.

It lasted about 10 minutes, the succinctness of which brought into stronger distinction how little information was on offer. It sounded more like a midcentury radio advertisement than an actual briefing, or even preview, as it was touted. If the State of the Union address were a product for sale, listeners were assured it was going to be “unfiltered,” “optimistic but also unifying,” guaranteed to “show the president cares about all Americans.” Trump will “speak from the heart” and “unite us in patriotism. The speech will “align people, surprise people” and remind them of all he’s accomplished in the first year. The theme and five issue sets were covered as well.

More information is expected to come out Monday. It may have been better for the White House to maintain total silence if it was truly so unwilling to mete out the colorful tidbits about the speechwriting process that the public enjoys. Trump will likely do very well on Tuesday, as he did in last February’s joint address to Congress, in which case these parsimonious briefings will not have accomplished much.

Anneke E. Green is a senior director at the White House Writers Group. She previously served in President George W. Bush’s speechwriting office, as head of op-eds at The Washington Times and as senior books editor at Regnery Publishing. She began her career working for Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFord's lawyer: Hearing doesn't appear to be designed for 'fair', 'respectful' treatment GOP opens door to holding Kavanaugh committee vote this week Press: Judge Kavanaugh must withdraw MORE in his personal and Majority Whip offices.