“In both law and politics, I think the essential battle is the meta-battle of framing the narrative. As Sun Tzu said, every battle is won before it’s fought. It’s won by choosing the terrain on which it will be fought.” – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, June 2014
Although President Donald Trump no doubt prefers to vent his off-the-cuff frustrations in tweet threads and campaign rallies, it is the planned teleprompter format in which he most clearly excels. Since assuming office, Trump’s State of the Union addresses have consistently been visceral, evocative, rhetorically fine-tune affairs that make brilliant use of audience guests to drive home his substantive agenda.
Last night’s speech was no exception, and the president was tremendously successful in framing the 2020 election as a stark choice between two competing visions of American governance: The economic prosperity, domestic security, and “peace through strength” deterrence of the Right, and the socialism, lawlessness, and capitulatory foreign policy of the Left. To borrow from Cruz’s quoting of Sun Tzu, Trump has “cho[sen] the terrain on which” the 2020 election “will be fought.”
The president spoke at length about the revving American economic engine, thus placing on the defensive the toxic brand of socialism that has come to dominate the modern Democratic Party. The Democrats are a political party with a statistical frontrunner of a presidential nominee who is a lifelong communist activist — a man who literally honeymooned in the Soviet Union and infamously hung a hammer-and-sickle Soviet flag inside his Burlington, Vermont mayoral office. They are advancing that nominee (and so many others who now mimic his economic illiteracy) in the context of an American electorate that, according to reliable pollster Gallup, is the most optimistic it has been about the economy in decades. Americans currently approve of Trump’s handling of the economy by over 17%, and Democrats’ solution for that is to stage a presidential primary where one of the leading “intellectual” debates among the candidates is whether to literally abolish private health insurance in favor of a government monopoly.
Good luck with that.
The president also spoke about the gruesome horrors of sanctuary cities, the great majority of which are clearly illegal under a straightforward reading of 8 U.S.C. § 1373(a): “Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the [Department of Homeland Security] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” The president masterfully provided gut-wrenching details of the crimes committed by illegal aliens mollycoddled by sanctuary jurisdictions — thus seemingly borrowing a tactic from Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, each of whom has at times provided vivid details of the underlying murders of those defendants whose capital punishment appeals reach the Court. Trump forced Democrats in the House chamber to retreat to the unenviable position of loudly booing his oratory assaults on criminal aliens and the sanctuary jurisdictions that harbor them. It was a remarkable sight to behold.
The president has thus successfully framed the 2020 election as a referendum about whether the nation will reject the Left’s two most profoundly ruinous current hobbyhorses: Socialism and lawlessness. He also spoke directly to the heart and mind of the proverbial forgotten American — the tax-paying, church-attending, law-abiding American who still has an innate love and appreciation for what has always made America great. Say what one might about Trump, but one cannot plausibly deny that he is an “Americanist,” properly understood.
The American people will head to the ballot box this November with an exceedingly straightforward choice before them. Here is hoping they make the right decision.