President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address was classic Trump. It was full of drama and hype, braggadocio and exaggeration, showmanship and pettiness. It was also substantive and effective.
This is the riddle of Trump: The singular mix of pomposity and real accomplishment. The constant shooting of himself in the foot combined with incisive political instincts.
How does someone walk into the House chamber, where a majority voted to impeach him, and leave that room triumphant?
It pains his critics to admit it, but Trump is a force of nature.
And that means he gets things done. Consider his record, which he reviewed Tuesday night: We are seeing the lowest unemployment rate in most of our lifetimes, especially for African Americans. We have a booming stock market. The president won new trade agreements with Canada, Mexico and China, just as he promised to do. And even his foreign and military policy seems to be working out better than anyone thought it would. Instead of protracted military engagements, he favors quick strikes. He talks tough and carries a big stick. And instead of globalism and alliances, the president talks about “America First” and secure borders, which many Americans find obviously sensible.
There is also much to criticize in the Trump administration. Our troops are still on the ground and at risk in places that will never be stable, never mind improved. The coal, steel and auto industries have not “come back” in any significant way. Massive deregulation will hurt many people in many ways.
But the president does have a record of accomplishment.
His problem, from the standpoint of roughly half the country, is his nature, his persona, his character. And, secondarily, how that nature shapes his understanding of the presidency.
One observer said: If the goal is to unite the country, he has failed.
The president is a deeply divisive figure. And the division has worn many Americans out. For them, a booming economy and national security without a new war with Iran is not enough. Character trumps prosperity.
But for many other Americans, also roughly half the country, what the president accomplishes matters more than how he behaves.
And the few, but decisive, voters who are in the middle might doubt that any Democrat running for president can accomplish more or usher in an era of good feeling.
What the president made clear in the State of the Union is that he is not changing. With him we get the whole package — the building and the bluster. The campaign will be both. He will go to the people as himself, unapologetically. He will run on his record, but he will also run as a salesman and a showman and a street fighter. He sees himself as a doer and the president as an executive, not a head of state or moral leader. In a little less than 10 months the voters will make the call.