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Trump’s address was a success — but now the hard part starts

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Never in a million years, watching President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, would you think he was addressing a House that participated in a strictly partisan impeachment and a Senate that would meet the following day to deliver its verdict on his removal. The president was confident and commanding, not because he knew his fate in the Senate, but because he has a record of results that has delivered for every American.

President Trump took to the podium in the House chamber, surrounded by Democratic plotters and betrayers. He knew he had beaten his Democratic opponents at their own game. Democrats used every trick in the book to get rid of him, yet there he stood, rattling off accomplishment after accomplishment despite the complete obstruction of Democrats other than their begrudging support of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA).

His address gave the president an opportunity to tout those accomplishments and to set forth his agenda for 2020 in his own words. This year’s theme — “The Great American Comeback” — was aspirational, as well as a challenge to Congress to work with him.

A State of the Union always includes three main parts: a laundry list of domestic items, then a trip around the globe to identify international challenges, and then a review of national security, including the need to maintain a strong military. The president stayed true to that template, setting forth five main themes:

The economy. The president has delivered more than 7 million jobs, a 50-year-low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, and record low unemployment for minorities. The blue-collar boom has helped launch America into the hottest economy in modern history.

The president challenged Congress to rebuild America with the passing of an infrastructure bill. Just last week, he signed the USMCA into law; a review by the bipartisan U.S. International Trade Commission showed that the agreement will boost GDP, create more than 170,000 jobs and expand international markets for U.S. exports.

Many presidents have tried to take on China, but President Trump is the first to deliver a phase-one trade deal that will “end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs,” as he promised  during his 2019 State of the Union address. In that deal, China committed to increasing purchases of American products and services by more than $200 billion over the next two years, nearly doubling U.S. exports to China, with an expectation that the higher purchases will continue after that period.

The president announced our energy independence and spoke to the importance of expanding all of our energy sectors, not limiting or eliminating them.

Help for working families. After passing a massive tax break that helps many working parents, President Trump vowed to continue his work to support families by fighting for paid family medical leave.

Not only did President Trump include parental leave in his federal budget proposal, he secured 12 weeks of paid leave for federal workers  in defense legislation approved in December.

Education is the key to maintaining America’s greatness, and the president spoke about working to improve schools.

Health care. The president is fighting to lower prescription drug costs and making health care costs more transparent.

Immigration. He spoke about securing the border, building border walls, working with Mexico to burden-share, and reducing illegal entries.

National security. In his 2019 State of the Union address, President Trump doubled down on his commitment to “work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS.” Not only did the U.S. and its allies push remaining ISIS forces out of Iraq and Syria but, in October, the United States killed “the world’s number one terrorist leader,” ISIS’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

President Trump said he is willing to stand up to “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” unlike the Obama administration, and hold Iran accountable for its radical behavior by killing its top general, Qassem Soleimani, just days after he orchestrated  a mob attack on  the  U.S. embassy in Bagdad. Soleimani was designated  as a terrorist in 2011, and he was “directly responsible for the deaths of scores of American military personnel in Iraq,” as Trump said.

White House staff put great thought into every word in a State of the Union address. How much is devoted to a topic and where it appears in the address is a roadmap to the priority given to it.

Now, for Trump to have a successful agenda, he must achieve two things. First, he must reach across the aisle and be content with “half a loaf,” to gain some Democrats’ support for his agenda items. Second, he must use the “bully pulpit” of the presidency to advance his agenda by speaking directly to the people, and then embark on domestic travel to emphasize his agenda — splitting his time between official and political events and messaging.

Going forward, the president must not let gridlock or the campaign overtake him. He must lean on Republicans in the House and Senate and, at the same time, must court or shame Democrats in both chambers. He must use carrots and sticks and constantly challenge Congress to act — and point out when it doesn’t. 

The president set forth his accomplishments and his aspirations in his State of the Union address. He made clear what the choices are for our country going forward. It was a stark contrast to what all of the Democratic presidential candidates are offering.

And, while Democrats sat on their hands and scowled, the president has something Democrats do not — a record of accomplishments. He has under-promised and over-delivered, and it drives them crazy.

Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a frequent guest on Fox News and Fox Business.

Tags 2020 election Donald Trump Donald Trump partisan gridlock Right-wing populism in the United States State of the Union United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement

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