Will he take a stand, or stand down?
That’s perhaps the biggest question looming over U.S. President Donald Trump as he prepares to deliver the State of the Union address.
The timing is either awkward or opportune, depending on your perspective.
The deadline for another painful shutdown of the federal government is less than two weeks away, and to avoid it Trump will have to reach a deal with Democrats.
Except the key issue is still the same as it was before the last shutdown in December: funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for.
In other words, we’re right back where we started – sort of.
Both Trump and Democrats still refuse to budge from their respective positions. It’s wall or nothing, for the president, and no wall at all, for Democrats.
WATCH BELOW: Trump says Nancy Pelosi is ‘very bad for our country’ as fight over border wall continues
“Republicans must be prepared to do whatever is necessary for STRONG Border Security,” tweeted Trump on Sunday, adding “Dems do nothing. If there is no Wall, there is no Security.”
That may be a hint of what’s to come during the State of the Union address.
Instead of working toward a deal, Trump seems to be drawing a fresh line in the sand.
He’s about to have access to a TV audience of 45 million Americans, and he can use that time to make his case.
He can do so in the context of having seen this very moment delayed by Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats during the shutdown.
WATCH: Majority of Americans not on board with national emergency declaration, poll finds
He can sound the rhetorical alarm bells the way he so often has about the sensitive topic of immigration.
But here’s where things get really interesting.
The public has not been on Trump’s side during the shutdown or its aftermath. Poll after poll shows the public blamed the president for the ensuing mess.
This week, 73 per cent of respondents told a new CBS News survey that they want Trump to keep negotiating while keeping the government open. In other words, they’re looking for a deal-maker, not a divider.
Add to that the fact that Trump caved in spectacular fashion to end the last shutdown, by agreeing to a deal he could have signed in December to avoid the whole mess.
He walked away with no money for the border wall, while Democrats got exactly what they wanted.
It was a political bruising that hurt the president, especially among his own base.
All of those factors combined may take the State of the Union address from a staid political tradition to a declaration of political war.
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Just last week Trump said talks to avert another shutdown were a “waste of time.”
That seems to be a hint that he might use his moment at the Capitol building to declare a national emergency to build the wall.
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The polls suggest that, too, would be an ill-advised move, with 66 per cent of Americans opposing the idea. Except, 73 per cent of Republicans think he should do it.
Given the choice between compromise and doubling-down with his own base, Trump almost exclusively prefers to shore up support within the Republican ranks.
That’s why Tuesday’s speech may give a sense of the true State of the Union. It will address whether a president backed into a corner over a highly partisan fight is willing to speak to the nation, or only to his supporters.
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.