Trump plans to hammer Democrats while pushing 'optimism' in State of the Union

Key Points
  • Trump will deliver his third State of the Union address Tuesday night.
  • The president is expected to contrast his economic successes with the "socialism" he claims Democrats represent.
  • Having likely survived a House impeachment and Senate trial, Trump is expected to strike a triumphant note.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Doug Mills | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — "A vision of relentless optimism" is the phrase that a senior administration official used to describe President Donald Trump's State of the Union address, set to be delivered Tuesday night before a joint session of Congress.

Wedged between a chaotic Democratic caucus in Iowa on Monday, and Trump's all-but assured acquittal in his impeachment trial Wednesday, the 9 p.m. ET speech is likely to showcase the president at one of the high points in his first term: victorious over Democrats who sought to remove him from office and energized by the prospect of campaigning for reelection over the next nine months.

A new Gallup poll released Tuesday showed Trump's job approval rating at the highest point so far in his presidency, with 49% approval. This could mean that on Tuesday, just under half of the country will see the president the same way Trump and his aides see him: triumphant and ready for partisan warfare.

According to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Friday about the president's speech, the address will be divided into five "buckets." The economy, working family issues, health-care costs, immigration and national security.

The most positive part of the president's speech is likely to be his description of the economy in his first term. The theme of the night's address, the White House official said, is "The Great American Comeback."

Despite trade wars with China and tariffs with trading partners, the U.S. economy under Trump has hit several high points in the past year, with market indexes setting new records almost weekly, and overall unemployment at an historic low of 3.5%.

While touting his achievements, the official said, Trump will also contrast his policies with those of Democrats running for their party's nomination, and he will paint a dark picture of America under the "socialism" he says Democrats would deliver. (Among the Democratic contenders, only Sen. Bernie Sanders identifies as a democratic socialist.)

Trump will also take aim at another of his frequent targets: so-called sanctuary cities. These are municipalities and states where law enforcement does not turn over detained individuals suspected of being undocumented immigrants to federal the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

For Trump, tying the threat of crime committed by undocumented immigrants to sanctuary city policies, typically without evidence to back up his claims, has long been a mainstay of his hard-line immigration rhetoric. On Tuesday, the White House official said, Trump will "take head-on" the "threat" of sanctuary cities.

Trump is also expected to tout the progress that he has supposedly made building a wall along the United States' southern border, four years after Trump's supporters first chanted "build the wall!" and Trump promised to get Mexico to pay for its construction.

But according to a top Customs and Border Patrol official who testified before Congress in December, so far, a mere 93 miles of additional wall have been built during Trump's presidency. Of those 93 miles, at least 90 were replacement of existing structures.

Impeachment and the election

Looming over Trump's entire speech, of course, will be two of the most divisive issues in America: Trump's impeachment and the 2020 presidential election.

After months of decrying the Democrat-led impeachment probe and subsequent House vote to impeach him as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt," Trump will deliver his speech Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting a few feet behind him, potentially creating an awkward moment for the president.

In the audience before him will be the House impeachment managers, who for weeks have made the case to senators that Trump presents a clear and urgent danger to the nation's security. It's difficult to imagine Trump bypassing the opportunity to call out some of the lead voices in his impeachment trial.

The 2020 presidential election will also flavor Trump's speech, the White House said. Every president uses State of the Union speeches to tout their governing achievements, but Trump's biggest battle this year lies outside of Washington, in the swing states of the Midwest. It's these voters whom Trump will be actually be speaking to on Tuesday.

The campaign style contrasts expected Tuesday night represent a stark shift away from the themes of Trump's 2019 State of the Union address.

One year ago, the president gave a speech filled with appeals for bipartisanship, urging Congress to "reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good."

Today, that kind of rhetoric seems like it belongs to a bygone era. Having likely survived the gravest threat so far to his presidency, Trump is now poised to battle Democrats on the campaign trail.

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