Horowitz: State of the Union Provides Trump With an Opportunity to Reset

Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Rob Horowitz, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

Rob Horowitz
Generally speaking, State of the Union Addresses do very little to move presidents’ approval ratings up or down and only marginally influence public opinion on which issues are most salient. In today’s media climate, this is likely more the case than ever.  As Professor Julian Zelizer recently wrote in a CNN commentary, “…the truth is that the State of the Union address doesn't really matter that much anymore. It is not the kind of galvanizing national event that it once was. The speech is not what it used to be, and neither is the audience.”

While it is important to heed those well-taken cautions when gauging the impact of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address, which he will deliver tonight, the speech still provides an opportunity to build on some small upward momentum and begin to alter the perception of most voters that he is a failed, divisive and dysfunctional president.

The continued good economic news, combined with the successful adoption of tax cut legislation, which is becoming more popular, has given Trump a bit of a boost in his approval ratings.  The economy is one area where right or wrong most voters give Trump some credit. This provides a launching point for a reset-where he actually attempts to communicate and govern in a way designed to reach and benefit all the people-not just his relatively small base.

Two upcoming issues, which if press reports are accurate will be highlighted in tonight’s speech, give him an opportunity to reach out to the broad middle of the electorate—if he so chooses.  On immigration, if he is willing to embrace a more limited deal that includes just legalization for the dreamers and funding for the border wall, there is a potential win—one that will be supported by the overwhelming majority of voters.    Insisting on the restrictions on legal immigration outlined in his current proposal will likely make reaching agreement any time soon—if ever—impossible. Similarly, investing in upgrading our aging infrastructure is a broadly popular issue that has the added political advantage of generating new relatively high paying jobs for people without a college education.

President Trump has the opportunity to frame his second year of office around these kinds of issues that appeal more broadly as he continues to tout the strength of the American economy. For this change of approach to be truly effective, however, will require a change in his tone and behavior.  In other words, no matter how optimistic or unifying the speech is tonight, if the president reverts to his usual divisive rhetoric and un-presidential behavior any positive reviews will have a very limited impact and almost no shelf life.

But despite the train wreck that best describes the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump still has the opportunity for a reset and redefinition. I am not optimistic that this will occur, but the opportunity is still there.  Tonight could be the beginning of something new and better.  As an American, I am willing to suspend disbelief and put my wishes ahead of my better judgment.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

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