US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. / AFP / EPA POOL / JIM LO SCALZO (Photo credit should read JIM LO SCALZO/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. / AFP / EPA POOL / JIM LO SCALZO (Photo credit should read JIM LO SCALZO/AFP/Getty Images)


President Donald Trump nailed the performance art during his first address to Congress Tuesday night. But turning his solid reviews into tangible policy victories will be a lot more complicated and test more than his showmanship.

The President woke up to a rare experience Wednesday: glowing reviews in the media that he has nominated as an enemy of the American people.

“THANK YOU” he tweeted, savoring a rare moment of universal praise in a young presidency battered by self-detonated controversies and the political residue of one of the most divisive elections in decades.

But as soon as the rowdy Republican cheers stopped echoing through the House chamber on Tuesday, the implications of the President’s speech were already altering the political climate across Washington.

The goals

It is now clear that the success or failure of Trump’s domestic presidency at least will rest on a set of hugely ambitious, yet treacherous political goals that he spelled out.

Those goals include repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, with a system that is better and cheaper than Obamacare. It’s a task fraught with pitfalls, questions of cost and access and legislative complications.

Trump also proposed a sweeping reform of the tax code, with vows to slash corporate rates and deliver a “massive” windfall to the middle class. If it happens, it could shape up as the most ambitious such overhaul since Ronald Reagan’s epic tax reform bill.

Trump is also challenging Republican orthodoxy, promising to enact a $1 trillion infrastructure package, aimed at driving investment and jobs to the neglected blue-collar heartlands.

And hours before his speech last night Trump injected a new wildcard, raising the prospect of an immigration bill that could offer a path to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants — whom he had previously threatened to deport. All of that is supposed to get done at the same time as Congress funds, and Trump builds, his “great, great wall” on the southern border.


All of these policy goals share common characteristics — they are so complicated, impact so many people and will cut across so many political constituencies — that they will require an almost unimaginable level of focus from the White House and lawmakers to stand any chance of moving into law.

Immigration or tax reform alone could consume Washington for years, and with Republicans already eyeing mid-term elections and Democrats battling to gum up Congress with procedural tricks, it’s hard to see Trump’s big plans being fully realized.

There is also little reason, so far at least, to suggest that the inexperienced White House and the President himself have the political acumen and capital needed to drive such a heavy agenda through Congress.

Only this week, Trump complained that no one had realized how “complicated” reforming health care could be — a remark that raised eyebrows among those who remember the Obamacare wars of the last presidency.

Art of the possible

The key to Trump’s hopes may lie in the temperamental dimensions of his performance on Tuesday night rather than his still rather thin explanation of policy.

The President promised a new era of “American greatness” was at hand — but warned his audience: “The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.”

Presidents get a lot of allowances in their rhetoric. But his warning might have seemed rather rich to his opponents, coming from a commander in chief who has made a habit of belittling his opponents, argued for days about the size of his inaugural crowd and peddled untruths about millions of illegal voters in the election.

Democrats disputed the media narrative that the Trump on show on Tuesday night represented an evolution of his political persona away from the dark vision he laid out in his inaugural address.
“Actions speaker louder than words, he has not done anything to unite,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on CBS “This Morning.”

“The speeches don’t mean very much because what he says in his campaign, at the inauguration, last night, aren’t attached to reality, to his own reality,” the New York Democrat added. “His speeches are populist. They’re aimed at the working folks who supported him. But his governing and what he does is hard right, favoring special interests over the working class.”

Bolstering Schumer’s case, the address came at the end of a period of ideological definition by the White House, which included Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon’s laying out of a populist, nationalist political creed last week and details of a budget that will slash foreign aid and environmental rule making.

If Trump’s tonal shift on Tuesday night did offer a glimpse of a new mode of operation for the President, he could conceivably wrong foot his opponents.

But it’s one thing to appear Presidential on prime-time television, from the speaker’s rostrum, framed against a vast Stars and Stripes and wallowing in the cheers of a friendly crowd.

It’s another to consistently perform with presidential steel and cool through the incessant frustrations and slights that make up a typical day in Washington and to grow in the job, as all great Presidents have done.

As reported by CNN