AP NEWS

Battenfeld: New tone proves to be prime-time hit for prez

March 1, 2017

It’s the moment Donald Trump actually became president.

The new commander in chief helped deliver one of the more riveting moments in recent presidential speeches, singling out the tearful widow of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen. Trump led the House chamber in applause as Carryn Owens stood in the audience, looking toward the heavens.

Even Trump’s most ardent critics had to be moved.

The Reaganesque touch by Trump was the emotional high point of a prime-time speech to Congress that showcased his kinder, gentler side and provided a marked contrast to his blustery inaugural address.

Trump talked about delivering a message “deeply delivered from my heart.” He cracked a few jokes. He brought tears. Where has this Donald Trump been for the last 40 days?

By toning it down, Trump also made it hard for Democrats to muster much of a protest, keeping the focus mostly on job creation and the economy — a positive message that got him elected.

Nancy Pelosi of course sat on her hands and a few Democrats wore buttons and gave the thumbs down, but it all looked a little childish. There weren’t many boos or catcalls and that’s a victory for Trump.

Trump’s call for unity and an end to “trivial” disputes no doubt rankled Democrats but his message was hard to argue against. Most Americans want the division to end.

The president did make forays into immigration, but even framed the issue in a less defiant tone than he has before, saying that enforcing immigration laws would restore jobs. Yes, he promised the wall but he targeted more on the criminal element of illegal immigration — not mass deportations.

“What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income or a loved one, because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?” Trump asked.

Good question and a tough one for critics to answer.

On health care, Trump also offered at least a little bipartisan message while calling for a repeal of Obamacare.

And by bringing in a survivor of a rare disease as his guest, then hailing a tearful father whose child was killed by an illegal immigrant, Trump basically neutered his opposition for the night.

Trump’s speech was rare for him — mostly sticking to the script, which no doubt was a relief for his advisers.

And it was smart for the president to focus on his real audience — the viewers at home — rather than the crowd in the House chamber.

The speech could be a pivotal moment for Trump, whose first 40 days have been marked by protests, miscues and leaks about everything from presidential robes to smartphone security checks.

But these addresses to Congress — you can’t call this one a State of the Union — are also overrated and have become absurd theater in the last few years.

How many standing ovations? Which Democrats will sit on their hands and make grumpy faces? Who will boo? Who will fall asleep?

In this case, no one slumbered. No one booed and it was Trump who delivered.