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Sunday Political Brunch: Trump's First Year Report Card -- January 21, 2018

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CHARLESTON, WV – I am sure I am not alone in the press corps this weekend as I evaluate President Trump’s first year in office. Like the campaign itself, this has been a roller coaster ride the likes of which I have never seen. There are lots of highlights and low points so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Grading Curve” – My grades are solely on the standpoint of effectiveness; they are not an endorsement or condemnation of any policy, or appointee. Most people choose to evaluate politicians as “good” or “bad,” but I find that gets too much into subjective emotion, and not enough into practical analysis. I choose to rate politicians by the standard of “effective” or “ineffective” in terms of can they get stuff done, (whether I like the policy or not). For example, I rate President Ronald Reagan as “highly effective” because he got much of his agenda done. President Jimmy Carter I rate “highly ineffective” because he had trouble getting anything done. Whether what either got done is “good” or “bad,” I leave to your own judgement.

“A Supreme Accomplishment” – President Trump’s first big success was appointing Justice Neal Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Trump may only last a four-year term, but Justice Gorsuch – if his health is good – could be making rulings from the high court thirty years from now. Yes, President Obama got “played” on his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to this post, but as we’ve seen many times over the years, the Supreme Court appointments are highly politicized. Democrats have played games on this, too, so touché. Grade: A+

“All My Ex’s Love My Taxes” – Tax reform was truly the one and only legislative accomplishment by the Trump White House and Republican-led Congress in 2017. Look, they promised they would deliver the first major tax reform bill in three decades before Christmas, and they did. Quite frankly, it may be five years before we know the true impact, (including benefits or detriments), but they got it done; promise delivered. Plus, for now, financial markets are booming. Grade A

“Paybacks Can Be Heaven” – Legislation has an impact at the voting booth. A case in point: a lot of people voted to re-elect President Obama in 2012, because “Obamacare” was passed in 2010 (even though it wouldn’t take effect until 2014). But the point is, once you provide a benefit to millions of people, its hard to take it back. Of course, Mr. Obama suffered a stinging rebuke in 2010 when Republicans took back the House. The tax reform bill passed by President Trump in 2017, could reap huge political rewards in 2018. That’s because many people will start seeing an extra 30 to 40 dollars in each paycheck this year. Yes, many may have opposed the tax reform bill, but if they start to cash in, all bets are off. This could be a real positive Republican reelection strategy. Grade: A-

“North Korea” – North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is the provocateur here, not President Trump. Yes, the Commander in Chief has said some controversial things in the ongoing nuclear dispute with North Korea (some ill-advised; others tough as nails). U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Defense Secretary James Mattis have been particularly forceful. The bottom line: despite North Korea’s threats, no serious nuclear missile launch has materialized. Trump called Kim Jong Un’s bluff (so far), but I believe the tough talk paid off. Grade: B+ (but this could turn at a moment’s notice).

“Tweeter in Chief” – This is a weird phenomenon. Throughout the campaign and into the first six months of the Trump administration, I - like many people – thought he should stop the daily morning tweets. I felt it was undignified, and un-presidential. On the other hand, many of the Trump faithful loved the daily blasts, especially when they put the media in the crosshairs. Now I wonder, is this the new normal for political discourse? Will every future President use Twitter like the digital “fireside chat?” Stay tuned, but for Trump it’s been a battle between rallying his troops, and offending he opposition. It cuts both ways. Grade: C

“Mixed Messages” – One of President Trump’s biggest problems has been sending mixed messages. Nowhere was that more prevalent then during the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia over statues from the Civil War era. On day one of the violence he said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country.” Two days later after much criticism, he said, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” The next day he reverted to his first statements. It was contradictory, inconsistent, and confusing. Grade: D+

“Immigration S**thole”- At least two U.S. Senators say the President used the vulgarity to describe African and Caribbean countries. President Trump and one Senator say he didn’t. Quite honestly, who is right is beside the point. The bottom line is the first major immigration reform bill in thirty years collapsed. No, the border wall was not part of this, but DACA and more law enforcement at the border was. This was a truly bipartisan effort, where everybody got something, but no one got all they wanted. Yes, it’s patchwork, but it was potentially a huge win, the President turned into a loss. Nothing got done. Grade F.

“Why All This Matters” – Political agendas are about momentum, and they can be held up as election season unfolds. Most of President Trump’s perceive successes in 2017 came because of Executive Orders (oddly the main GOP criticism of how President Obama ruled over two terms). How President Trump works with Congress in 2018 could determine his own legislative agenda, but could also have a profound impact on the midterm elections in November.

Mark Curtis, Ed. D, is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, and is a nationally-known Political Analyst.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch - The Politics of Math - January 14, 2018

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CHARLESTON, WV – I’m a frequent Political Analyst for “The Brian Copeland Show” on KGO-Radio AM-810 in San Francisco, and have been on the station for nearly two decades, no matter where I am working on the political trail. This week Brian was asking me about the chances of Democrats regaining control of the House and Senate in 2018. It’s a great, but complicated question. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“The Politics of Math” – One of the political bromides I’ve been preaching for years is that, “In politics math is just as important as ideology!” I don’t care how good or bad your idea is as a politician, if you don’t have the votes, it isn’t going to happen. Political parties have positions known as “whips” who count the internal vote to see whether you have enough “yes” votes to pass everything from health care reform, to a border wall. Public opinion doesn’t always matter. If you have the votes to pass legislation, you’ll put it in the hopper and vote it up!

“Incumbency is King” – According to the Washington Post and Gallup polling, 90 percent of U.S. House Members and 91 percent of U.S. Senators get reelected. That’s a huge advantage. But when seats are vacated – usually through retirement – all bets are off. Many toss-up seats could go to either party. In Alabama, appointed Sen. Luther Strange would probably have retained the seat had he not been challenged in the GOP primary by former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Strange’s loss in the primary, opened a victory path for now Senator Doug Jones, (D) Alabama, over Judge Moore.

“Can Democrats Win Back the U.S. House?” – Given what we’ve just said, you’d think Republicans would have a huge advantage. The problem for the GOP is that 42 House members have already signaled they will not run for reelection. Of those leaving Congress, 28 are Republican; 14 are Democrats. Right now Republicans have a 46-member lead in the House. Given the vacancy rate, Democrats have a good chance to cut the margin in half. Is half enough for control? No, but with enough moderate Democrats and Republicans working together you might have a philosophical majority on some issues.

“Can Democrats Retake the U.S. Senate?” – Democrats may have a big advantage for gains in the House; but they have the opposite problem in the Senate. The minority party is defending 23 seats, whereas the GOP is defending only eight incumbent seats. Making matters worse for Democrats, at least five of their contested seats are in states that now strongly lean Republican. I am still predicting a Republican net gain of three seats in the U.S. Senate, despite President Trump’s unpopularity.

“Why Census Matters” – Party lines are the difficulty for Democrats in that individual states have redrawn their Congressional and Legislative districts as of the 2000 and 2010 census. Despite the Clinton and Obama presidencies, the nation has had a significant conservative sea change since Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. Right now, 32 state legislatures and 34 Governors mansions are held by Republicans. It will be hard to draw district lines counter to the trend.

“The Lesson of 1994” – In 1994, Democrats had a huge advantage, especially after having President Bill Clinton win in 1992. The Democrats held a 54-seat majority in the House and a nine-vote majority in the Senate. The odds of winning either chamber were looking impossible. But Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) Georgia and Rep. Dick Armey, (R) Texas devised a “Contract with America” in which they spelled out an agenda for a Congressional takeover. They not only won the House, they took the Senate, too. So, even though Republicans hold a 46-seat margin in the House right now, and a one-vote margin in the Senate, Democrats have a shot at winning both chambers.

“Arizona” – For Republicans to retake control of the U.S. Senate, they really need some races that are anomalies. The Alabama race that propelled Senator Doug Jones (D) Alabama into the Senate is a case in point. A Democrat won in a solidly Republican state with a divide-and-conquer phenomenon. The Republicans Party could not circle the wagons and hold a safe GOP seat. Watch Arizona for the same potential. Controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio has entered the race for the seat being vacated by Senator Jeff Flake, (R) AZ. At least three or four people are running in the GOP primary, meaning someone could win with just 26 percent of the vote. Like Alabama, if an unpopular GOP candidate wins the primary; the seat may be up for grabs.

“Why All of this Matter” – Politics is not just a game about majorities; it is also a game of momentum. A massive tide can wipe out a previously powerful trend. It can be a tidal wave that no one sees coming, with consequences for generations. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter looked to be a lock just a month before the election. But a lousy economy; a poor performance on the international stage; and a poor showing in the only debate sunk his ship. Not only was Ronald Reagan elected, but the GOP took control of the U.S. Senate; and with conservative Democrats, held philosophical control of the House. Could a similar wave happen in the 2018 Congress? Yes, it could, with ramifications through the 2020 Presidential campaign and beyond. Stay tuned!

© 2018 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, and is a nationally known Political Analyst.

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

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