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President Trump over the course of one hour on Tuesday delivered a remarkably well-crafted, conventional speech to a joint session of Congress that could reset the political contours of his young presidency and boost support for his agenda.

Trump has been defined since Day One of his presidential campaign by his divisive rhetoric and provocative Twitter habit. It might have helped him win a muddy election, but it clouded his transition to office and led to an infant White House that has been beset by chaos and historically low approval ratings.

But Trump put his best foot forward during a primetime address to a national audience that tuned in to observe him in depth, probably for the first time since his Jan. 20 inauguration.

As opposed to the president’s typically rambling, unscripted speeches that hector political opponents and the media, Trump came through with a calm, heartfelt and cogent tone that couched his populist agenda in comfortable, traditional Republican themes.

The performance could elevate the president’s fragile image with swing voters and independents, improve his leverage over resistant members of both parties in the House and Senate.

“Easily Trump’s best speech, one independents will see more than the constant outrage du jour,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye, a frequent critic of the president’s, in a Twitter post. “Would not be surprised to see a polling bump.”

Trump’s job approval rating was cratering at a low 43.6 percent late Tuesday, albeit the president remains strong with Republicans.

Those numbers, combined with chaotic management out of the White House and indecision from the commander in chief on the biggest ticket items before Congress, the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, and tax reform, have left the Republican majorities in the House and Senate skittish and divided.

Trump’s joint-session speech, in addition to increasing his support among voters outside his loyal base, is likely to calm the nerves of Republicans on Capitol Hill. That could create more running room for their agenda, even though the president failed Tuesday evening to provide the specifics they’re looking for.

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“Overall his bearing and his focus on the economy and security will put him in the sweet spot of the electoral mandate he got in November,” Republican strategist Brad Todd said.

Trump’s speech was unique to him in its conventionality, both in tone and delivery. And that is likely to help him with voters who find his agenda appealing but have been looking for more presidential behavior out of the commander in chief.

Trump didn’t abandon the nationalistic populism that fueled his rise in the 2016 campaign.

He announced a Homeland Security Department task force to crack down on crimes committed by illegal immigrants, declared that he was the leader of the U.S., not the world, and threatened to retaliation to nations that don’t play fair on trade.

“We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross, and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate,” Trump said at one point, echoing a favorite line from the campaign trail. “We’ve spent trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”

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Yet the speech was dominated by calm civility, with repeated references to God and a stirring tribute to Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in Yemen, and his wife, Carryn, who was in the House gallery seated next to first lady Melania Trump.

And, for Republicans (and Democrats) concerned about Trump’s foreign policy, there was assurance that he plans to keep the U.S. engaged in the world as a leader, committed to alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and working with Muslim allies in the Middle East to defeat the Islamic State.

Trump, uncharacteristically, showed an appreciation for what America’s internationalist foreign policy has achieved in the past.

“Our foreign policy calls for a direct, robust and meaningful engagement with the world. It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies across the globe,” he said. “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism.”

With Trump, it could all change on Wednesday with a fresh tweet or jab at his political opponents or the press. And immense challenges remain for Trump, who is promising more than he can possibly deliver.

But Democrats could find Trump more difficult to combat if he sticks to the script. And even if he doesn’t, the tweets and barbs could be less of a distraction if they disappear under the umbrella of strong speeches to the nation like the one he gave Tuesday night.

Even his harshest critics appeared to recognize that the president put on a performance that was beyond their lowly expectations.


“NOT AS BAD AS I WANT IT TO BE, NOT AS GOOD AS THEY NEED IT TO BE, BETTER THAN HIS USUAL BULLSHIT, WORSE THAN ANYTHING THAT HAS COME BEFORE,” tweeted Jon Lovett, who worked as a speechwriter for President Barack Obama, and now co-hosts the podcast “Pod Save America.”



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