President Trump's speech on border security: 6 PR pros weigh in

Politicos dish on whether or not Trump hit a wall with his address on Tuesday night.

Photo credit: Getty Images

President Donald Trump delivered his first Oval Office address on Tuesday evening on security at the Mexican border and the partial government shutdown.

Here is what six PR pros with political backgrounds had to say about Trump’s speech:

Cal Harris, VP, FleishmanHillard’s public affairs practice
The Oval Office has historically served as a sacred space where presidents deliberated with leaders and authorized resolutions on urgent concerns. Presidents used the office as a backdrop to deliver assurance directly to the American people and extend bipartisan accord during times of duress. Unfortunately, that accord was not achieved Tuesday night. President Trump made a bold effort to paint the growing border crisis as a national threat, however, far too many continue to question the urgency and accuracy of that claim. As the government shutdown prolongs, it is highly unlikely that consensus on border security was achieved.

Wyeth Ruthven, VP of public affairs, MSL Washington
This was the sequel to the American carnage theme in President Trump's inaugural address. And, like most sequels, it used a bigger budget to amplify the sense of threat to a shrinking audience.

Doug Thornell, MD, SKDKnickerbocker
This was an ineffective and lackluster speech by a president who continually fails to rise to the moment. Most Americans oppose this shutdown and are against the president’s wall. This speech likely made no headway with them. Democrats’ message was crisp, clean, and coherent. But the shared podium between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was awkward. Pelosi should have delivered the full speech.

Trevor Francis, partner, Blue Engine/JDA Frontline
Former communications director at the Republican National Committee
Previous presidents used Oval Office addresses to unite the nation during times of history, war, tragedy and mourning. President Trump chose the forum to persuade Americans to adopt a point of view he’s been arguing since the first day of his campaign. Time will tell if President Trump did that with his speech last night. Regardless, the president should see the value in using more traditional trappings of the presidency like this to communicate his message. Both he and his policy agenda would be far better served with more prime-time speeches and fewer early morning tweet storms.

Lee Carter, president, Maslansky + Partners
Make no mistake about it, last night’s address from the Oval Office was a markedly different tone and approach for President Donald Trump. He appealed to emotions describing this as "a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul." He suggested a willingness to compromise, talking about building a "steel barrier rather than a concrete wall." He expanded the conversation from the wall to overall security as well as "humanitarian and medical support." But don’t be surprised if he gets no credit for the new tone and if opinions don’t change overnight. First, the fact that his facts aren’t straight will keep him from being heard, especially by those who aren’t willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And importantly, as we’ve all seen this happen, just because he changed the message once does not mean that you will see an immediate change in perception. It takes time and repetition. It’s going to take actions that confirm he means what he says. Unless you’ve gotten nauseous from repeating your message, you probably haven’t begun to get traction. But, if he keeps up this new approach, we might see a different conversation about immigration and border security emerge.

Kevin Lewis, senior communications strategist, Blue Engine/JDA Frontline
Former spokesperson for President Barack Obama
An Oval Office address is typically an opportunity for a president to share their message and vision for the country to overcome a major challenge. Trump demonstrated a gross misuse of the forum. The speech diminished the integrity and use of the venue to rally the country around a common cause. It lacked inspiration, fresh ideas or solutions, and stoked a message of falsehoods, divisiveness, and fear. Constant diversions and lack of facts have, unfortunately, become the story for this White House. So much so that major news outlets focused on pre-fact checking, live fact checking, and post-fact checking coverage of Trump’s remarks, which is evidence of his lack of a responsible narrative. 

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