Politics & Government

Republicans finally find passion for Trump

It was all teleprompter, no twitter. And full of the genuine passion wary Republicans have been seeking for the long first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump’s first State of the Union address Tuesday was everything anxious Republicans could have asked for in this election year. He stuck to the script. He hammered home important conservative principles. He talked tough and offered Democrats an opportunity to work together.

Most of all, he used his skills as a showman to drive home his points, punctuating his positions and initiatives with tear-evoking tales of audience members with stories hope or torment.

Democrats usually sat quietly and at times even jeered. But Trump fans were elated and predicted the speech will be a big help as Republicans further their agenda.

“It was a grand slam home run, probably the best presidential State of the Union address I’ve seen, bar none,” gushed Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Trump’s ability to use “real Americans and real freedom fighters” to weave their stories “into a message of hope and prosperity and America first was nothing short of miraculous,” Meadows said.

Even those who have been critical of Trump’s propensity for volatility and using heated rhetoric were impressed with the tamped down delivery.

“From the standpoint of advancing policy that impacts people’s lives .. the presidential address delivered tonight fits more in line with getting things done,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.

The speech, Sanford said, “was a lot of things that Donald Trump occasionally hasn’t been, which is predictable and bombastic.”

That came as a relief, particularly to some Republican moderates who have chafed at Trump’s fondness for attack. They’re well aware that the era of good feeling may only last hours given Trump’s yen for aggressive tweets, but for now, all was well.

“It was fairly measured and uneventful, in a very good way,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who cited Trump’s disruptiveness as a factor when he decided to retire from Congress this year. “As opposed to the president with the Twitter handle and the impulsiveness. That was encouraging.”

But Dent said he was disappointed by Trump’s emphasis on immigrants as gang members.

“I would have highlighted the many who are coming here for all the right reasons, for a better life,” he said.

Yet Republicans largely basked in a warm embrace, twice breaking out into chants of “USA, USA,” as Trump spoke.

“He made a compelling case that the Republican majority is working for you," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "I think he was very much dancing with the crowd that brung him, and making the case it's working. lt's working on national security front, it's working on the economic front."

Graham, who has built a strong personal and professional relationship with Trump over the past year that has suffered a setback due to disagreements over immigration policy, said the two men shared a moment during the speech Tuesday night.

Trump called for trying terrorists as enemy combatants, which Graham has advocated with increasing urgency over the past several months. When Trump made this commitment, Graham said he and the president locked eyes.

"He saw my big smile and pointed at me," Graham recalled. "And I gave him a thumbs up."

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told McClatchy after the speech that he was busy looking through text messages "from people who are overjoyed" with the president's address.

"I literally cannot believe Democrats were sitting on their hands for so many of those completely American uplifting lines. I couldn't quite understand it myself," said Johnson. "I was really proud of the president. I thought he delivered a really excellent speech."

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., called Trump's speech "presidential."

"I think he hit the high marks of what his priorities are," Perdue said.

Republicans were particularly pleased that Trump offered passion himself for some of the GOP's most treasured positions, notably lower taxes and fewer regulations.

Some spoke or made statements with the same sort of lofty tones Trump had employed. The economy is booming, and now Trump was taking full ownership of its success -- something the GOP could now rally around as elections near.

The tax reform "will further lift our great nation and increase opportunities for all Americans," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a major player on spending issues, also got statesmanlike. "In today's divided political climate it may seem difficult to find consensus," he said. "However it is indisputable that the American economy is strong and on the rise."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has endured a year of Trump changing his mind and offering little direction on major issues.

Tuesday night, McConnell sat near the front of the House chamber, smiling broadly when Trump talked taxes. And McConnell was effusive, pointing to a provision in the tax code rewrite and speaking as though he were back on the campaign trail.

A single mother with one child, he said, is going to get a huge boost in take home pay.

"That may seem like a crumb to Nancy Pelosi, but to that particular family, it's a lot of money," McConnell said.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark