Donald Trump proclaimed a “new American moment” as he delivered his maiden State of the Union speech to Congress last night. Liam Parker, Pagefield partner and Boris Johnson’s former director of political communications, analyses what the future holds for Trump, the Republican Party and a possible US-UK free trade agreement.
Ted Cruz (formerly ‘Lyin Ted’) on his feet, Bernie Sanders arms crossed, Paul Ryan trying to smile and Mike Pence clapping like a seal possessed. The reactions to President Trump’s State of the Union encapsulates his Presidency so far – as a story of love, hate but not indifference.
If last week’s speech in Davos was all about America first not America alone then last night was America together and a new American moment.
It is easy for opponents and commentators to repeatedly say Trump is wrong, Trump is divisive, or Trump is mad. But those who subscribe to that view fail to really understand him and choose to discard the views of many millions of Americans who believe he is delivering on his promises. They are the same people who say that those who backed Brexit were wrong and ill informed. Now, I backed remain and I am not a natural Trump supporter but the slighting of people across a whole nation because they voted with their hearts and their minds is just wrong, ignorant and creates even more division.
Last night Trump softened some of the sharper edges of his Presidency showing he wants America to work together to deliver the new American moment. Similar to what Theresa May tried to do on the steps of Downing Street in 2016 following the fallout from the Brexit decision.
There were some familiar themes to the speech; smashing ISIS, warnings to North Korea, his tax cut programme and the infamous wall. The President has been chided for many of those policies but let’s be honest who isn’t in favour of destroying ISIS and its wicked interpretation of Islam, who doesn’t think North Korea has been allowed to go unchecked for too long, who doesn’t think a tax cut to kick start American business is a bad thing and the wall – well this one is trickier but let’s all remember the southern border fences increased under George W Bush and their expansion continued under Obama. Yes, a wall is evocative, but the aims have been the same for Trump’s predecessors even if the means were slightly different.
The most significant part of his speech was his attempts to build bridges across the Republican Party. Trump was never meant to be the heir to the GOP crown, but his seismic campaign and personal approach ripped up the script. Last night he sought to plaster over the cracks as the US heads towards the midterm elections.
Trump needs to keep his majorities in both Houses of Congress to get his agenda enacted. But the pivot to his party is vitally important to the U.K. The Republicans have always been more anglophile than the Democrats and the most positive UK-US free trade deal noises coming out of the US is from Republicans – remember Obama said we would be back of the queue! In fact, Paul Ryan the Speaker of the House has teams of Republicans ready and waiting to start the process of a UK trade deal – a point he made repeatedly to Boris Johnson when they met on several occasions last year. Now, I am not saying that if the House and Senate go to the Democrats then we can forget a trade deal, but they are nowhere near as passionate and excited about this issue as Republicans on Hill. With instability in our own political system the last thing we need is uncertainty from the US adding to our problems.
It remains to be seen how long this more conciliatory Trump will last but love him or hate him he was elected by 63 million Americans and won 304 electoral college votes more than Kennedy in 1960, Carter in 1976 and Truman in 1948. He deserves the chance to govern and let’s hope his rhetoric turns into positive outcomes for all of us.