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Jennings: Trump was the grown-up in the room

Somehow, President Donald Trump has become the voice of bipartisanship and cooperation in Washington, while Nancy Pel...

Posted: Jan. 31, 2018 9:14 AM
Updated: Jan. 31, 2018 9:14 AM

Somehow, President Donald Trump has become the voice of bipartisanship and cooperation in Washington, while Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have taken a decidedly negative tone on major issues -- chiefly immigration. This stance was on evident display Tuesday night at the President's State of the Union address. Trump, whose initial compromise immigration plan shocked some last week for its willingness to offer a path to citizenship to the Dreamer population, was met with hostility by Democrats who seem to have forgotten who won the election.

The President again offered a cooperative tone to do something out of reach for the past two administrations: comprehensive immigration reform. He even flatly stated that neither side "will get everything they want," which sounds like a President who understands he must govern from the middle on complex issues like this one.

Time and again, Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer, as Politico's Jake Sherman noted, couldn't bring themselves to stand for Trump's calls for bipartisanship. They look petty and small in the face of a President honestly trying to forge a solution to a problem that has festered for years.

Regardless of what happens on immigration (and I predict progress of some kind), Trump also nicely laid the groundwork for the Republican midterm campaign to come by touting the GOP's tax cut and positive economic news.

"Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history," Trump said, a reminder to Americans that Republicans are capable of following through on promises after a period of policy stagnation under Barack Obama.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has become Trump's best partner in Washington, himself sounded the same message in an interview with Fox News earlier in the day, noting that not one Democrat voted for the tax cut.

"Democrats don't like cutting taxes," the ever-succinct McConnell put it. In the House chamber Tuesday night, McConnell looked like the cat who ate the canary while Trump extolled the tax cuts (and judicial appointments) he successfully moved through the US Senate.

Even if Trump doesn't make campaign appearances in some battleground districts, you will hear his tax cut themes echoed in GOP advertising throughout the fall.

"Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses -- many of them thousands of dollars per worker...This is our New American Moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream," Trump said, also touting rising wages for American workers.

The challenge ahead for the White House and Republican Party: maintain a disciplined messaging approach that connects Americans' positive vibes on the economy to the President's job approval.

Where this will be particularly critical, one White House official told me a few weeks ago, will be in the suburbs, where college educated, right-of-center voters, perhaps turned off by the President's tweets and rougher edges, need a reason to stick with a party they reluctantly rallied behind in the waning days of the 2016 election.

Going into the 2018 campaigns, another issue with the potential to recapture support among independents and suburban voters is tackling the opioid crisis, which the President was smart to highlight. Calling for a crackdown on drug dealers is good politics, but more details and concrete action are needed to stem this deadly tide. He might have spent more time on this section, as a great deal of his presidency will be judged on how America responds to this crisis over the next few years.

The speech also offered some good old-fashioned Trump-style populism. He slammed government inefficiency when it comes to building infrastructure, touted deregulation, said he ended the "war on coal," asked Congress to direct all foreign aid to America's "friends," and reminded us all to stand for the National Anthem.

These items continue to play well in Flyover Country, even as they cause Washington Democrats to roll their eyes. Trump has never lost his touch when it comes to putting Democrats on the wrong side of issues that play 80-20 in middle America.

Overall, I give the President high marks for a speech well-crafted and well-delivered. It hit the right notes on the economy and used invited guests to effectively to tell the story that Republicans want to tell -- this presidency is keeping promises, revving up the economy, and keeping us safe.

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