The ladder of American politics has a top and a bottom. It took President Trump two weeks, maybe three, to climb to the top. During that time, Democrats tripped and fell to the bottom.
The causes of change can pile up quickly in politics, and indeed they have. But their consequences have yet to be understood by the media, Democrats, and even many Republicans. One thing, though, is clear: Trump is now in the strongest position of his presidency, and while he’s hardly a shoo-in to win a second term, his reelection prospects are better than ever.
Think about what’s driven Trump’s rise, starting with impeachment. That the president has gained from the ordeal unleashed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is more than a lucky break. It’s an amazing development that was foreseen by very few. It not only hurt Democrats; it has prompted an increase in approval of Republicans.
Pelosi turns out to be the most agonized victim of her decision to impeach Trump. She seemed agitated and unhappy during his State of the Union address. And Democratic members of Congress looked like a ragtag army stranded on the House floor, unsure when to sit, stand, or chant “H.R. 3,” a bill to cut prescription drug prices.
While the economy continues to boost Trump, there are special reasons why it makes Democrats miserable. Liberal economists, notably New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, assured them Trump and recessions were synonymous. With Trump in charge, the well-being of the public would become a thing of the past. The economists were wrong.
Trump has leapfrogged mere boasting about economic growth. He loves to talk about how minorities, whom Democrats see as their loyalists, have fared in the three years of his presidency. Here’s the White House transcript of his State of the Union speech:
“The unemployment rate for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans has reached the lowest levels in history. (Applause.) African American youth unemployment has reached an all-time low. (Applause.) African American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded. (Applause.)”
In foreign policy, Trump’s greatest success is the humbling of Iran’s ruling mullahs. His decision to kill Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian terrorist chief, and the slapping of sanctions on Iran have crippled its economy and weakened its role in the world. Another result: The president’s stature, or at least his prowess, has increased.
This has led Trump to a new tack in dealing with the mullahs. If Iran abandons “its pursuit of nuclear weapons” and stops “spreading terror,” he promises to help revive its economy. “Perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help,” he said in the State of the Union. “We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.”
Roger Kimball, the editor of the New Criterion, assessed Trump’s standing after the address to Congress. “The irony … is that despite the endless carping of his opponents in the government, the media, and the corridors of elite power, Donald Trump has emerged from the unremitting ad hominem attacks stronger and more persuasive.”
His reelection effort is far ahead of the campaign of any Democratic presidential rival, including billionaire Michael Bloomberg. And if the nominee is not decided until the Democratic convention in July, all the better for Trump.
But if he believes he can cruise to reelection, he is mistaken. He will be opposed by most of the media. Democrats are likely to vote in record numbers. And his enemies will finance a national dragnet to uncover unsavory tales, offensive comments, or questionable actions to use against him.
Scott Reed, manager of Republican Bob Dole’s bid for president in 1996, says the Trump campaign must deal with two priorities: message control and the suburban vote. And both involve Trump’s personality and tendency to cause trouble with off-the-cuff remarks and tweets. He can’t afford to alienate college-educated voters, women especially, as he did in 2016. In the 2018 midterm elections, Trump’s behavior was a cause of sweeping defeats in suburbs and the loss of the House.
Reed believes Trump “touched all the right political buttons” in the State of the Union address. Of those he introduced in the balcony, there was an emphasis on African Americans and Hispanics. It was a disciplined performance by the president. He read the speech from the teleprompters. He didn’t ad-lib. He rarely smiled. He was disciplined. “It was a tour de force,” Reed said, the kind that will keep Trump at the top of the political ladder.