Trump’s State of the Union Address: Touchy Topics and Words to Own

SMU experts are available to analyze political landmines and presidential goals in the runup to the Feb. 5 State of the Union address.

Linda and Mitch Hart

SMU experts are available to analyze political landmines and presidential goals in the runup to the Feb. 5 State of the Union address.

Ignore the Talk of Impeachment?

Jeffrey Engel, director, SMU Center for Presidential History


“Our last two presidents to face such open talk of impeachment chose different tacks in addressing the issue during their State of the Union,” Engel said. “Richard Nixon mentioned it, seven months before he was forced from office one step ahead of the impeachment posse: It was time to bring the Watergate investigations to an end, he said. Bill Clinton addressed the nation during his impeachment trial, but he didn’t mention it at all, realizing the political winds already blew strongly in the direction of his acquittal in the Senate.

“What will Trump do? Rarely has anyone ever made money betting on Trump choosing silence over bluster, and tutored in his political youth by those who saw Nixon as a mentor, bluster is his likely path forward.”


Using the ‘W’ Word

John Potter, SMU dispute resolution faculty, “the art of the apology”


“In today’s world where social media is paramount and other media follow, a value symbolizes a position,” Potter said. “A value is symbolic. In this case, one word does it which is tweetable and understood easily by anyone – wall. Each time the word ‘wall’ is mentioned President Trump’s position is strengthened. He already owns the word. In fact, if you say the word ‘wall’ in a social situation today, nobody thinks of the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China, or Wall Street. President Trump made a campaign promise and needs to find a way hold that promise.”

Potter is available for interview Tuesday night.


Reframing a Loss as a Win

Chris Salinas, SMU corporate communications faculty; debate coach


“This is President Trump’s first public address since the end of the shutdown,” Salinas said. “Many perceive that as a political loss for him, and he doesn’t like losing. Continued indictments from the Russia investigation also put pressure on him to perform well in this speech. I expect him to focus on what he has accomplished and policies that are popular with his base: a healthy economy, tax cuts, and the withdrawal of our troops abroad. But most importantly, I expect him to attempt to reframe the political landscape as one in which he is still in charge and winning.”

Salinas is available for interview Tuesday night.

What Trump’s Base Needs to Hear

Matthew Wilson, SMU associate professor of political science


“Trump's base needs to hear that he remains committed to border security, and will achieve it one way or another,” Wilson said. “I don't know that Trump's base is shrinking, but it's definitely not growing, and it was never more than a third of the electorate.  His electoral winning coalition was razor-thin to begin with, and he has done nothing to reach out to new constituencies. The danger is that many moderate Republicans who were not Trump ‘base’ voters, but who gave him a chance in 2016, have been alienated and will either stay home or defect in 2020.”

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