Nancy Pelosi made a major move this week when she rescinded her State of the Union invitation to President Trump as long as the government remains shut down. In all likelihood, Pelosi thought this would provide Democrats with a strategic advantage in future negotiations over border wall funding. In response, President Trump canceled Pelosi’s government-funded overseas trip.
The petty political blows can continue back and forth, but there is an actual strategic play President Trump can make that will be much more powerful – he needs to address the nation, as scheduled, on January 29, 2019.
With Pelosi considered a political tactician within the Democratic party, it is no surprise to see her cancel the State of the Union address. The government shutdown is now moving into its third week, and with each passing day polling on the border wall shifts more in favor of the Republicans. Canceling the President’s address was a clear attempt by Democrats to prevent the GOP message on border security from reaching the public at large. Among Latinos, President Trump’s approval shot up to 50 percent in a December NPR/PBS News poll.
In his address to the nation on January 8, President Trump was able to lay out his argument for why we need border security. Not only that, but he was able to highlight the hypocrisy of Democrats over border security and funding for a wall. The large benefit of his January address was that it gave the President a much larger audience than he typically would reach by cutting into the major networks during primetime.
Further, the Democrats’ rebuttal featuring Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fell short of the President’s address. It delivered poor optics for Democrats and became the subject of countless memes that will live on far longer than any content from the statement itself. The general consensus following President Trump’s address and the response from Schumer and Pelosi was that it was a win for Trump and a net loss for the Democrats.
President Trump’s State of the Union address was set to be more of the same. The address would almost certainly have included a heavy dose of border security material, and it was almost inevitable that Angel Families and border patrol agents would be invited as President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump’s guests
For their part, Democrats would have hopefully picked someone much less meme-able than Schumer or Pelosi to deliver their rebuttal. However, the overall content of the message would likely be the same as Schumer and Pelosi’s – a message that did not move the needle of public support in their direction.
This is exactly what Nancy Pelosi feared. The State of the Union is a chance to speak to people who are not inundated with politics 24/7 and might only have a passing knowledge of what is going on in Washington. The average person only catches the occasional headline or soundbites. It is within those headlines and soundbites where Democrats succeed in painting this issue as Republicans only wanting a massive wall from sea to shining sea without budging.
This is a platform that allows the President to inform the casual observer of the facts: that his desire for border security is much more extensive than just a wall, that the GOP has already made multiple concessions and compromises, and that it is the Democrats who are playing hardball refusing to budge or even come to the negotiation table.
Pelosi fears that given this stage to speak to the masses, President Trump will only further appeal to the American voter with a message on border security that most people view as common sense. As she saw with his address on January 8, the more people are exposed to the facts, the more public opinion shifts in favor of Republicans.
A change of regarding the State of the Union is unlikely from Pelosi, but that shouldn’t stop President Trump from speaking in some form or fashion on January 29. He needs to appeal directly to the American people. Democrats continue to focus on Russian conspiracy theories or on subjective feelings like how the President says mean things. Conversely, at the halfway point of his presidency Donald Trump actually has objective measurables to show our nation is improving.
With the public polling trends on immigration in his favor, the State of the Union presents a large and unique stage for Donald Trump. It’s a chance to put a spotlight on his argument for why all Americans should support his administration’s border security policies, lay out his path forward, and tout his prior successes. Not to mention, anything Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want is probably a great opportunity – he would be wise to take it.