Only one time each year does the President of the United States command the undivided attention of a national television audience of more than 40 million people.
For President Donald Trump, that day is today, with his first State of the Union.
It comes at an interesting time, punctuating the end of a rollercoaster first year in office, and at the precipice of his second year, which will end with the midterm elections.
In my view, President Trump should achieve five strategic objectives with his speech tonight:
- Explain how the achievements of 2017 made American’s lives better – His first year in office was a consequential one. He should detail why the tax reform law was worth doing and offer examples of how it is already benefitting the country. More than two million Americans are receiving bonuses because of it and hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment have been announced. The regulatory rollback has taken the boot off the neck of the private sector. The stock market keeps setting record highs. Unemployment is historically low, especially for African American and Hispanic Americans. The economy is a real strength and he should devote significant time to it. But there have been other successes. ISIS is almost entirely defeated across the Middle East. China and the United Nations Security Council have taken unprecedented steps to punish and isolate North Korea. President Trump’s record of judicial confirmations is restoring the federal judiciary to its rightful, constitutional role.
- Describe a path to a legislative deal on DACA – President Trump needs to make clear that he wants a deal and that a deal can be reached if both sides come together. He took the first step to build that goodwill by offering his framework, which includes a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million “DREAMers” over 10-12 years if they remain working, stay off welfare, and keep a clean record. This was a significant concession. He needs to specify how stronger border security is in America’s national security interest and how reforming our immigration system will benefit the country.
- Offer a specific plan on infrastructure – The White House spent much of 2017 formulating their infrastructure plan, and they decided to wait until tax reform passed to unveil it. Congress has been eagerly awaiting this rollout. Many members want to know which projects will be green-lit and how much federal spending is committed. This issue offers a true bipartisan legislative accomplishment for 2018.
- Honor the service of our national security, intelligence, and military professionals – Questions about rogue FBI agents have been swirling for weeks, but tonight President Trump should make clear that our intelligence community professionals and our military are doing extraordinary work to safeguard this country from significant terrorist threats. On behalf of a grateful nation, President Trump should personally thank them and highlight their good work.
- Offer his vision for the future – Washington is more sharply divided that at any time in recent memory. For President Trump to succeed in 2018, he will need to bring the parties together for bipartisan legislative accomplishments on immigration, infrastructure and trade. Can he rise to the challenge? Can anything get done in an election year?
President Trump has a golden opportunity tonight to seize this moment, reset his presidency, and begin the New Year with a grand, bold, new vision.
Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on the web at MackOnPolitics.com.