Donald Trump improves tone but falls short on substance

Whether it was taxes, health care, immigration, or infrastructure, the Donald Trump speech wasn’t just light on details it was almost entirely lacking in them


There was simply nothing in Donald Trump speech on Tuesday evening to break the deadlock Republicans in Congress are facing on health care. Photo: AFP
There was simply nothing in Donald Trump speech on Tuesday evening to break the deadlock Republicans in Congress are facing on health care. Photo: AFP

Donald Trump finally gave a first-class nomination acceptance speech. Unfortunately, he’s running about eight months behind what he needs to be doing now.

After 40 days of presiding over a remarkably dysfunctional and chaotic administration, Trump didn’t spend (much) time rehashing the election, bashing the media, or ad-libbing nonsense.

There were a few whoppers, but my guess (before the fact-checkers do their work) is that for a convention speech addressed to partisans and curious independents, most of the exaggerations and misstatements were relatively normal.

That, along with a couple of days without nutty stuff on Twitter, offers good news for those worried about his self-discipline.

The bad news is it isn’t summer 2016, and Trump isn’t a candidate sketching out broad themes and aspirations.

He is the President of the United States of America. For a president giving one of his few major speeches in support of his legislative agenda, substance matters. Trump came up as short as ever. Whether it was taxes, health care, immigration, or infrastructure, the speech wasn’t just light on details; it was almost entirely lacking in them.

Which would be okay if Trump already had, say, a health care and a tax plan. Or, for that matter, if Republicans in Congress were moving ahead solidly on one or more of his legislative priorities.

But none of that is true.

Governing, the old saw says, is choosing. To the joint session of Congress, Trump made no choices at all. It was an hour plus of cotton candy. I suspect it’ll get excellent reviews; a lot of pundits who have been brutal to Trump will welcome the chance to praise him, and I suspect everyone is pleased to have the president toss aside his clown act, at least for one night.

But it’s a sugar high, and there won’t be much if anything remaining of it after a few hours.

There was simply nothing in this speech to break the deadlock Republicans in Congress are facing on health care. Nothing to reconcile Trump’s instincts for promising huge tax cuts and huge new spending with budget realities, let alone with his complaints about the debt.

He talked big on infrastructure, but we know the Republican leadership in Congress has already indicated they have no interest, and it’s hard to see anything in this speech to change that. And the immigration section followed a day of flipping and flopping around on the topic.

Meanwhile, there was hardly anything on foreign and national security policy. Or trade policy. Oh, he used the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” and he complained as always that everyone is taking advantage of the United States on trade.

But he didn’t, for example, say anything about what new trade deals he might want, or how he would propose to fix the ones he considers unfair. On Islamic State, he merely said he had asked the Pentagon for a new plan to defeat it.

At best, this speech, in which Trump declared that the “time for trivial fights is behind us,” could be heard as a promise to make up for the time he lost during the campaign, the transition, and during his first month. Or at least not to lose any more time. We’ll see soon if that’s a promise he’ll really keep. Bloomberg

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