Trump doesn’t appreciate it, but Nancy Pelosi did him a big favor when she put off his State of the Union address. And now, Trump has blundered once again when he decided to go ahead with it tomorrow, before the issue of reopening the government is resolved.
Trump has two challenges—tone and content—and he is playing a very weak hand on both.
On tone, he can either be defiant and belligerent, his default setting; or he can be conciliatory. In recent public statements and tweets, he has insisted that there is nothing to negotiate about as long as Congress doesn’t give him his wall. If Trump sticks to that tone, he only continues to poison the negotiations—only this time he doesn’t have the Republicans with him.
As The Washington Post has reported, if he threatens again to use emergency presidential powers to build the wall despite an absence of appropriated funds, that takes a resolution of Congressional concurrence. If the House passes a resolution denying approval, it would put the Senate Republicans in an excruciating jam. That’s one of the reasons why Mitch McConnell and the gang have warned Trump not to raise that threat.
Conversely, if Trump strikes a more conciliatory tone, he contradicts himself and demonstrates even more weakness. Given that it’s Trump, he could well try to be both belligerent and conciliatory, which is to say incoherent.
The worst nightmare of his handlers is that a speech is carefully drafted and agreed to, and then Trump wanders off script and ad-libs God knows what.
As for content, a classic Trump tactic is to change the subject. Only this time, there is just about no good news to change the subject to.
His Syria policy is a shambles, Republican leaders are objecting to his foreign policy on several fronts, leaders of intelligence agencies are calling out his lies on North Korea and Iran, he is about to be taken to the cleaners by the Chinese, and Robert Mueller keeps tightening the noose. A buoyant stock market only takes you do far.
And just to add to his self-confidence, Trump will have Nancy Pelosi looking over his shoulder. If Trump begins with the usual line that “The State of the Union is strong,” it will be the best laugh line of the night.