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Do You Get “Do-Overs” in Politics? -- Sunday Political Brunch - July 22, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – We all make mistakes – politicians, too! How many times in life do we seek a “do over” to set things right? The world of politics is harsh, but it is also very forgiving. People seemingly dead in political life, have a history of rising from the ashes only to be embraced by the public again. Think Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and perhaps more recently Governor-turned-Congressman Mark Sanford, although he has since been voted out. Can President Trump bounce back from a difficult and challenging week? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“From Russia, Not with Love!” - At a joint news conference at their summit in Finland, President Trump said he challenged Russian President Putin about meddling is the 2016 U.S. presidential election. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said. He added, “I don’t see any reason why it would be (Russia).”​ Then on Tuesday he said he meant to say, "wouldn't." The response was deafening from both parties which chastised Trump for dissing American intelligence. House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R) Wisconsin, was unequivocal. “There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world… Russia is not our ally,” said Ryan. “That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence,” he added.

“Walking It Back” – The very next day, President Trump changed his tune. "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said, but added, "Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. But there was no collusion." Trump has now invited President Putin to the White House this fall for a continuation of their discussions. I bet that makes a lot of the GOP nervous as we near the November elections. Is this part of a “do over” strategy? Stay tuned.

“Clinton v. Lewinsky” – On August 17, 1998, President Clinton testified before a federal grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky and then he addressed the nation on TV that night. He said, in part, “Our country has been distracted by this matter for too long, and I take my responsibility for my part in all of this. That is all I can do. Now it is time -- in fact, it is past time to move on… And so tonight, I ask you to turn away from the spectacle of the past seven months…” The one thing he did not say was, “I’m sorry!” Or, “I apologize.” He was roundly booed by both parties. Days later, he publicly apologized at a National Prayer Breakfast in front of hundreds of members of the clergy. I covered that and maintain to this day, that it was, in fact, the day Clinton saved his presidency.

“Good Job, Brownie!” – President George W. Bush had a similar faux pas when assessing the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!” said Bush to then-FEMA Director Michael Brown. In fairness, the biggest failure in Katrina was the local and state government response, but the feds won no prizes for the response either. As with Trump, Bush was lambasted by both parties and eventually “Brownie” was sent packing, as part of White House damage control.

“Keep Your Friends Close; Your Enemies Closer” – On the other hand, did President Trump have a strategy here? He says he grilled and chastised Putin in private over the election meddling, but apparently only his translator knows for sure. His strategy may have been not to try to publicly shame and embarrass Putin at the news conference, to help Putin save face. It’s plausible, but certainly turned into a public relations disaster on U.S. soil. By tradition, U.S. lawmakers have a tradition of not criticizing a commander in chief while on foreign soil. But that all went out the window this week, with many Democrats and Republicans alike not holding back.

“Trump’s Woman Problems” – I have yet to hear anyone talk about gender – and maybe it’s nuanced – but I’m wondering if there was a bit of bias here. A week before the Russian summit President Trump was highly critical of both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Yet, when it came time to be similarly critical of President Vladimir Putin, he was soft on the Russian leader. The two ladies are staunch U.S. allies; Putin is not. Say what you want, but it gave the perception of, “The Good Old Boys Club!”

“Campaign 2018 Impact” – Many Republicans were very public in disagreeing with President Trump regarding U.S. intelligence and the Russian election meddling. There are likely two reasons they did that – a) many indeed believe he was wrong; and, b) it’s an election year. The GOP holds a 51-49 majority in the Senate, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room in November. And Republicans have only a 19-seat majority in the House, so control there is up for grabs, too. Members of Congress who are up for reelection this year, don’t need a President who is not on the ballot, to torpedo their majority.

“Now vs. November” – Here’s a rule of thumb if you are a politician. If you are going to put your foot in your mouth in an election year, do it in June or July when everyone is at the beach. Don’t do it in October or November, as people are focused and poised to go vote. I bet you a lot of people will either forget or forgive President Trump’s Russian miss-step, (unless he keeps doing it), by November 6th. Out of sight; out of mind, has an impact on voters.

Was President Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin the fatal blow to his presidency? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar TV stations serving West Virginia and its bordering states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

The Politics of Finesse, 2018 Style - The Sunday Political Brunch - July 15, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Finesse is something we normally equate with athletics, but it can be in politics (or any other business), too! While President Trump continues to be a “bull in a China shop” it seems to be working for him, despite what his detractors say. It’s been a busy week for the White House, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“A Supreme Choice?” – On Monday night – with his flair for TV drama – President Trump
introduced Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his choice for the U.S. Supreme Court. With only a one-vote majority in the Senate, Trump rolled the dice and took a gamble on Kavanaugh, when he could have picked a safer, more moderate judge to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. Trump’s finesse was basically saying to the Republican Senate caucus, “I dare you to oppose me!”

“Courting Democrats” – The president’s strategy may be of the “divide and conquer” variety. While he may lose a Republican or two on Kavanaugh – the leading candidates being Sen. Susan Collins, (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) – he may offset that threat by wooing more conservative Democrats to back Kavanaugh. Those targeted are Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota). All three are facing tough reelection fights in states where Trump is very popular. Backing his Supreme Court nominee could be crucial to winning another term. All three voted to conform Trump’s first pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“Creating Leverage” – As mentioned, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is locked in a tough fight against State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-West Virginia). Morrisey called a Tuesday news conference, to essentially call out Manchin’s undecided status on the Kavanaugh nomination. “At the end of the day, this is about his political survival,” Morrisey said outside the Capitol. “I think he believes he must support Brett Kavanaugh. Otherwise, he will be assuredly going down in defeat in November.” Manchin votes for Trump initiatives more than any other Democrat, and hails from a state Trump won by 42 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.

“The Pressure Point” – To know one’s surprise, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, (R-West Virginia) has already come out in support of Judge Kavanaugh. She said, “When I consider nominees for the Supreme Court, I don’t look for a person who promises a particular policy outcome or someone who is out to actually create laws. What I look for is a person whose record reflects experience, fairness, and respect for the Constitution as it is written.” Capito and Manchin work well as a team for West Virginia in Congress, despite being from different parties. Adding her name to the chorus of supporters for Judge Kavanaugh, puts more than subtle pressure on Manchin.

“Run for the Border” – Political finesse doesn’t just come in candidate races, it also comes from policy debates. Because of the border security and family separation controversies from the past few weeks, House
Democrats have called for an elimination of I.C.E., the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department. To the surprise of many, Republican leaders in Congress have basically said, “Okay, we’ll call a vote!” Since
the GOP has a strong House majority, it isn’t likely to lose. It’s a vote to shame Democrats in a brutal election year. Watch for it soon!

“Across the Pond” – The use of political finesse was not just at home this week. President Trump went to the NATO meetings in Belgium, and had harsh words for some of our closest allies who were also there. He singled out Germany, "If you look at NATO, where Germany pays 1 percent and we are paying 4.2
percent of a much bigger GDP – that's not fair," Trump said. Trump then held an awkward photo-op with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who was not happy about being criticized. Trump later said all NATO countries agreed to up their contributions to 4 percent of their GDP, which those countries have since denied. But my guess is most will increase their contributions to some degree. He called them out, and publicly shamed some.

“On Being Presidential” – Oddly enough, this is the week President Trump has looked the most “presidential” since taking office, although in a sense much different than his predecessors. His style of being “presidential” is to be intimidating, and bullying if he has too. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who often disagrees with Trump, called the president a “street fighter.” We usually think of “presidential” as being diplomatic, not harsh and blunt. But, like him or not, if nothing else Trump is consistent in his tone.

“Russia” – Mr. Trump continued his world tour criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May, and then stood by her at a joint press conference (sound familiar?). And then he goes on to his final stop, the summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here’s what Trump says of their current relationship. “I think we’ll get along well. But ultimately, he’s a competitor. He’s representing Russia. I’m representing the United States. So, in a sense we’re competitors, not a question of friend or enemy. He’s not my enemy,” Trump said. “Hopefully someday, maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen but I don’t know him very well” Trump added. But will Trump call out and criticize Putin, now that 12 Russian intelligence agents have been charged with hacking into Democratic presidential campaign computers in 2016. Stay tuned!

“Why All of this Matters” – In many respects President Trump ran on a platform that the United States was being pushed around, not only by its enemies but its allies as well. His tough talk at home and abroad is very concerning to many, who think his brusque style will offend our allies. But his supporters love Trump’s bravado, starting when he battered and bruised so many of his 16 opponents in the 2016 presidential primaries. No, he doesn’t play nice. But his tactics put him in the White House, and supporters hope that same demeanor causes his agenda to succeed at home and abroad. It’s very much the 2018 campaign strategy.

What do you think of President Trump and all his tough talk? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Report for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and bordering states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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