Trump's Oval Office address was a wasted opportunity

Image: ]President Trump Returns To White House From Speaking At CPAC Event
President Donald Trump walks to the Oval Office after arriving back at the White House in Washington on Feb. 24, 2017. Copyright Mark Wilson Getty Images file
By Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann and Ben Kamisar with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — Heading into Trump's speech last night, we were scratching our heads about what exactly the president would do with the bully pulpit.

Would he announce a national emergency at the border — and simultaneously call for an end to the shutdown — to give himself leverage on the wall? Express support or compassion for federal workers worried about their paychecks? Offer new information or a new pitch to reassure skeptical Republicans that he's right to stay the course?

Now, nearly 12 hours after the speech, we're still scratching our heads. After all the political capital the White House invested into requesting a half hour of the broadcast networks' time, we're starting today where we were yesterday morning — at an impasse, with both sides dug in, no real new information and no new path out of a shutdown that is now stretching into its 19th day.

In fact, Trump barely mentioned the shutdown at all. With hundreds of thousands of federal workers bracing to miss a paycheck in two days, Trump offered only the vague reassurance that "my administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation." Trump's most vivid imagery came in the form of a more polished version of his 2018 campaign stump speeches, describing gruesome crimes by undocumented immigrants. But that's essentially the same argument he's been making since he launched his presidential run.

So, what was the point? Despite broadcasting to millions nationwide, Trump's real intended audience seemed to be just a few miles down Pennsylvania Avenue. The test today will be whether congressional Republicans, who have been antsy about being on the losing side of shutdown politics, think the primetime address was enough to revive more public support for the shutdown.

But right now, we don't see much evidence that they will.

And it made it harder for both sides to get to a deal

Trump's insistence on the wall and his description of a border in crisis last night also made it harder to get to a shutdown deal sooner. After digging in on primetime TV, what incentive does he have to make any concessions in the short term? After the speech's rehash of old Trump rhetoric, what incentive do Democrats have? The most definitive thing we learned from last night might be that the shutdown will stretch into next week.

Declaring a state of emergency might have provided a way to break the stalemate, but now we're wondering if Trump may not have the internal support from Republicans he'd need for it. Don't miss that Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said yesterday that using military dollars for the wall would be "damaging" to military readiness, adding "In short, I'm opposed to using defense dollars for non-defense purposes."

Why now, redux?

Yesterday, we asked why the president chose this moment to give a primetime speech on his signature issue, rather than early in his presidency or at least at the start of the shutdown.

It turns out that the president had the same question. As the New York Times reports, citing two people briefed on the discussion, Trump said in an off-the-record lunch with reporters yesterday that he didn't see the point of the speech or a Thursday visit to the border but was talked into it by his advisers. And it showed, by the way, in his delivery last night.

As the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein wrote, the timing question may come down to one of mismanagement — and perhaps learning the wrong lesson from the 2016 election.

"[T]his is the downside of having an "outsider" president," he writes. "Trump's supporters loved that he wasn't a typical politician, that he came from a business background, and that he shot from the hip. But translating campaign rhetoric into tangible policy success as president takes a lot more organization, competence, and discipline than Trump has demonstrated. So the most likely outcome of the current shutdown fight is that Trump will end up politically damaged, but with nothing to show for it."

*"Build the Wall" vs. "Read My Lips"

Trump has moved the goalposts on the wall before (Mexico will pay for it! The trade deals will pay for it! Concrete! Steel!) but you can't say he hasn't made "Build the wall!" an unshakeable promise to his voters — no matter how politically damaging it may be.

For Trump, it may be a determination to avoid George H.W. Bush's reversal on his "Read my lips" pledge. (Talk about the perils of an extremely memorable slogan when it runs up against political reality.)

Manafort shared campaign polling data with Russian linked to intelligence sources

With all the attention on yesterday's primetime address, don't miss this. "President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data with a Russian associate linked to Russian intelligence services — and then lied about it to federal investigators, according to court papers filed Tuesday.The disclosure was made by Manafort's lawyers in a poorly redacted section of court papers that were filed to rebut the special counsel's allegations that he lied to federal investigators. The lawyers revealed that Manafort was not truthful about providing polling data related to the 2016 presidential campaign to Konstantin Kilimnik."

There's no indication in the new documents of whether Trump was aware of the exchange or how the Russian involved might have used the data. But if this doesn't point to some form of coordination with a foreign government during the 2016 campaign, then what does?

Tom Steyer to make announcement of "political plans for 2019 and beyond"

At 4:30pm ET, billionaire Tom Steyer will announce his "political plans" for the future in Iowa. Steyer, of course, spent millions of his own fortune to help Democrats in the midterms, turn out young voters and push his climate change and Trump impeachment messages on TV airwaves.

And/but: Don't forget that his announcement also comes against the backdrop of this swipe from Elizabeth Warren last week: "No to the billionaires," she said on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, speaking about the Democratic primary. "No to the billionaires whether they are self-funding or whether they are funding PACs."


Elizabeth Warren leads DailyKos 2020 straw poll

Speaking of Warren, she'sthe winner of the first Daily Kos straw poll, coming in at 22 percent support. (That's compared with 15 percent for Beto O'Rourke, 14 percent for Kamala Harris, 14 percent for Joe Biden and 11 percent for Bernie Sanders.) The progressive organization says it'll repeat the straw poll every two weeks.

Unlike national polls that largely measure name ID this early on, the Daily Kos figures give a snapshot of what already-engaged progressive activists are thinking. What stood out the most to us, though, was the low standing for Bernie Sanders. It's an alarm bell for his team that he's struggling with folks who should be his ideological allies.

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