Hours ahead of President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress, the usual talking heads are on hand to offer their usual clichéd and conventional political wisdom. Just as they did in the campaign after he won the primary, the legacy media has a unified message to Trump: become “presidential.”
This was the same wisdom they shared with the world on the eve of the inaugural address. It was the same wisdom they offered during the primaries and ahead of the General Election, too. If Trump doesn’t “act presidential,” they warned, he’ll never be president. And yet here we are and here they are offering the same tired and unhelpful advice.For some time now I’ve been wondering: How can these people still not get it?
To say that Donald Trump was an unconventional presidential candidate is putting it mildly. Trump represents a fundamental change from the American political system as journalists who cut their teeth on 20th century politics understand it. He is at once undoing the status quo that Franklin Delano Roosevelt put into place while creating a coalition and paradigm for governing.
Think about it: When was the last time a presidential candidate not only lived up to his campaign promises, but didn’t change his demeanor the moment that he assumed office? Recently in an interview with Matt Lauer, former President George W. Bush cautioned the public that the view of the presidency looks a lot different from the campaign trail than from the Oval Office. While this is certainly true, where does it say that the man the people elected must somehow conform to fit stale and outmoded Washington standards? Bush, of all people, ought to know. They didn’t serve him so well, did they?
Trump has so far ignored every single convention that has been put into place in Washington, D.C. since his inauguration. His inaugural address is a case in point. Unlike previous presidents, Trump did not paint a rosy picture. He knew that those who overwhelmingly supported him have suffered—and have been suffering for the better part of 25 years. Indeed, many of Trump’s most ardent supporters have endured what amounts to an economic and social apocalypse.
Trump talked to the voters, not at them. Throughout the campaign and his first month in office, the president has broken through the filter of the entrenched partisan press and found ways to speak directly to the people. He does this every day. His message is clear: things are bad, we cannot keep going in the direction that we’ve been going, and only he (by which he means his identification of the problems, his proposals, and his kind of boldness) can repair the damage. This message has kept his supporters as galvanized for him as they were for him from the day he announced his candidacy.
For Tuesday’s speech, Trump must continue being real. He should continue pointing out the problems and proffering his unique solutions. Tonight, I would expect the president to redouble his message. As I have said before, the president has no one but his supporters. They are united behind him. But, in order to keep his movement going, Trump must absolutely have some legislative victories. He should continue moving at breakneck speed, in order to keep his adversaries—in both parties and in the media—off-balance. If he lets up, he will not only lose ground politically, but he will lose the trust of his base as well.
In tonight’s speech, the president needs to reiterate that he is just getting started, not finishing. If I were the president, I’d call out Republicans in Congress—as only Trump can—and let the voters know that if they are upset with the speed of the process, it is entirely because of the inertia of the legislative branch. He needs to remind everyone that the Democrats have chosen defeat with the endless national protests and the selection of the radical, Tom Perez, as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Trump needs to keep winning.
Weakening his posture and trying to “reach out” as everyone keeps saying is not a prescription for Trump to keep his momentum going. Trump has what everyone in politics wishes they could have: a galvanized, united, and diverse base of loyal followers. People need to have their faith rewarded. Trump should push Congress to enact the Obamacare repeal and replacement and implement tax reform sooner than 200 days hence. He should encourage lawmakers to meet the expectations of the people.
Trump must be seen to be still championing the cause of the voters. Even if Congress cannot enact his agenda in under 200 days, Trump should remind Congress that he has the power to flood the phone lines of Capitol Hill with committed supporters who won’t let up pressure on their elected leaders in the House and Senate until they get what they want. This is the only way Congress will maintain discipline and continue pushing a Greatness Agenda through in a timely manner.
Fact is, our government has become unresponsive to the will of the people because our elected leaders have insulated themselves behind soft language and an entrenched good ol’ boys’ network that protects its own. Trump, with his constant, direct contact with the voters through social media, his utter disregard of convention, and his continued embrace of the least-expected political strategies cannot waver tonight.
The last thing Trump needs to do is morph into just another politician. If he embraces soft and weak language, he will have let down his followers who have pinned their hopes upon the Trump Administration to stop the bleeding. For Trump to Make America Great during these next four years, he needs to ensure that he keeps his base satisfied. Trump must keep up the pressure on the Republicans in Congress and continue baffling the media.
For Trump to continue being successful, he must be Trump tonight.