He’s known for being bombastic and unfiltered, but don’t expect to see that side of Donald Trump during the president’s first State of the Union address Tuesday. Instead, expect a scripted message from a man touting his accomplishments, while making big promises about what else he might deliver.
That’s somewhat standard fare for the annual address to a joint session of Congress. The difference is that Trump is the consummate salesman and he’s going to try to sell Americans on the job he’s done, at a time when his approval rating is abysmally low.
Pay no attention to the Russia probe, the rash of defections and firings from the White House, or those fractured international relationships. Tuesday night, Trump is expected to say that America is back, and it’s because of him.
Here’s what to watch for:
“It’s the economy, stupid”
Despite all the turmoil in Trump’s world, the U.S. economy is humming along nicely.
The stock market is soaring, unemployment is down, and tens of thousands of Americans are enjoying one-time cash bonuses from their employers after the Republican tax plan slashed the corporate tax rate.
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Expect the President to spend a lot of time on this subject – and if his recent tweets are any indication, he may draw specific attention to the falling unemployment rate amongst African-Americans as a way to deflect from allegations of racial animus that have plagued his administration.
One thing you likely won’t hear? A big “Thanks, Obama,” even though most of those economic indicators started trending in a positive direction over the course of the previous eight years.
WATCH: White House says State of the Union is ‘incredible’
A recent poll showed 56 per cent of Americans credit president Obama for the improved economy, compared with 49 per cent for Trump.
Either way Trump is clearly benefitting from the issue many Americans care about the most.
“Build that wall”
It has been just over a week since the U.S. government was shut down by Democrats seeking a permanent solution for the so-called Dreamers protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program.
Since then, the Trump administration has proposed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented people who were brought to the country illegally as children – but there’s a catch.
Remember that “big, beautiful” border wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for? Not surprisingly, Americans are on the hook for the construction costs, but Trump still wants to build it.
So, as the President has explained on Twitter, “if there is no wall, there is no DACA.”
If Democrats want to protect the Dreamers, they’ll have to agree to a budget that coughs up US$25 billion for the wall. They’ll also have to agree to a new immigration deal that ends extended-family migration and abolishes the diversity visa lottery program.
Lawmakers are increasingly tired of kicking the can down the road and want a long-term solution, but the two sides are still far apart.
If they can’t sort it out by Feb. 8 when a short-term funding bill expires, the government could shut down again.
To send a message, at least two dozen Democrats have invited Dreamers as guests to the State of the Union.
One of Trump’s big campaign promises was to spend big on renewing America’s infrastructure. With that in mind, Trump is expected to outline a US$1-trillion, 10-year plan to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, highways and railways.
The problem is that no one is quite sure where all that money is going to come from – and there are already rumblings that cities and states could be left to scrounge up more of their own money to match a relatively meagre federal contribution.
Last summer, Trump’s “infrastructure week” went so badly off the rails that Washington was talking about everything but roads and bridges.
Tuesday night offers a chance to outline a clear infrastructure plan.
With NAFTA negotiations still ongoing, the Trump administration’s tough talk on trade has turned into the “we’ll see” approach. That is so often the two-word answer from the president when asked about the future of the trilateral trade agreement.
Last week there was some optimism from free-trade supporters when Trump suggested he’s open to a new deal on NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership.
While it’s doubtful he’ll give more details about his true beliefs during the State of the Union, it’s quite likely he’ll still talk about trade in big broad terms.
Since he likely won’t veer far from the TelePrompTer, the tone of Trump’s speech is worth paying attention to.
Will it be hopeful and optimistic, or will it paint the bleak picture of a nation in decline that we heard during Trump’s inauguration?
Either way, the safe money is on a speech that focuses on the self-described accomplishments of a president who claims to have done more than any of his predecessors.
Given that it’s a scripted speech, expect to hear a lot of pundits using the word “presidential” to describe what they’ve just heard.
It’s hard to imagine Trump using an hour of prime-time network television coverage in any other way.
This is a quick and easy chance to present a different vision of himself in contrast to the unpredictable and unconventional Trump who dominates headlines on most days.