Sunday Political Brunch: A Tale of Two Presidents -- August 27, 2017


SAVANNAH, GEORGIA – My political road trip in the past week took me to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and then back to West Virginia. Along the way, I watched a number of President Trump's speeches, and I was left with the impression that this is “A Tale of Two Presidents.” Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“A Tale of Two Presidents” – As the story begins, “It was the best of times; it was the weirdest of times.” Okay, pardon me for improvising the classic Charles Dickens line. But I watched President Trump deliver a very “Presidential” address Monday night about Afghanistan. He was calm, but firm, methodical and logical. That he admitted that he departed from his normal decision-making process and previously-held positions showed humility and the ability to be reflective and flexible. It had a Presidential elegance. The next night, at a campaign rally in Phoenix, he seemingly had an out-of-body experience. It was stark and just odd. I kept wondering, “Is this the same man I watched the night before?”

“Déjà Vu” – As jarring as this disparate display was, it wasn’t the first of its kind. The previous week, the President gave three very different statements on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. On that Saturday, he condemned a “display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” After a short pause, he repeated the line, “On many sides.” It looked and sounded like an ad-libbed departure from his actual script, and it brought a wrath of criticism. On Monday, he gave a much more measured speech, using a teleprompter at the White House. “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” The next day he had a combative news conference and was back with his “many sides” line that inflamed passions once again.

“Staying on Message” – In the campaign of 1992 and in the early days of President Bill Clinton’s administration, top officials often used the phrase, “Staying on message!” It was their mantra for dealing with a very undisciplined Clinton, who was prone to be so chatty and candid, that he often talked himself into controversy. Their goal was to have a bumper-sticker mentality to their campaign themes. They wanted to keep it memorable and brief; and - most of all - they strove for consistency in their messages. It wasn’t always successful with the verbose Clinton, but it was a wise strategy.

“Congressional Relations” – The most difficult place for dealing with the President’s mixed messages appears to be in the halls of Congress. His most stark messages are when he lashes out at members of his own party when legislation fails or things just don’t go right. This week I spoke about that very dynamic with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). “What is unusual about this is that the President does take the opportunity to jab his own party a bit more - as in a lot more - than most sitting Presidents do when they are frustrated with their own party. And that does present challenges; but at the same time, we want to go the same place. The President wants to put people back to work. We, as a party - Republicans - want to put people back to work; into wages and jobs where they see a good future,” Capito said. Well they failed on the Obamacare repeal; we’ll see how tax reform goes next.

“Haley’s Comet” – While in South Carolina I thought a lot about former Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC), who is now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Long before President Trump made his “fire and fury” comments about North Korea’s nuclear missile testing, Ambassador Haley was the first to offer tough words. “The time for talk is over,” said Haley on July 31. She has also spoken forcefully about recent troubles with Iran and Venezuela. Haley is 45 years old, a two-term Governor, and a rising star on the national scene. If Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs before serving a full term, Haley may be the logical successor. Further down the road, I think she has a shot at the White House. You heard it here first!

“The Importance of Accuracy” – I’ve been in the media forty years, and there is nothing more sacred and important in our business than accuracy. Getting the facts straight is challenging, and the facts can never be scrutinized enough. But we also expect accuracy from the people we cover. President Trump made two grossly-inaccurate statements in his Phoenix speech. First, he said the TV crews were turning off their cameras so as not to cover him and his remarks. "Look back there, the live red lights. They're turning those suckers off fast out there. They're turning those lights off fast. Like CNN. CNN does not want its falling viewership to watch what I'm saying tonight,” Trump said. I watched CNN and switched back and forth with Fox and other networks. No one stopped their broadcast. He also said the media edited out remarks from his Tuesday speech on Charlottesville. "Did they report that I said racism is evil? You know why? Because they are the dishonest media." In truth, most networks carried that speech live, including the “racism is evil” remarks.

“Why All of This Matters?” – I like President Trump from the vantage point that he is one of the most fascinating political figures I’ve ever covered. He generates headlines and copy – whether you agree with him or not. I’m not here to endorse or condemn his policies; I’m here to cover the news he generates. One of the things I’ve learned over the years of covering politics is that communications need to be clear and consistent. Mixed messages from politicians can confuse the public and erode support for the politicians' agenda. I honestly thought the appointment of General John Kelly as White House Chief-of-Staff would lead to a more disciplined White House. In some respects, the jury is still out. But with a President prone to spontaneous and provocative tweets, mixed messages are more likely to be the rule, rather than the exception.

What are your thoughts after seven months of the Trump Presidency? Just click the comment button at

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

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Sunday Political Brunch -- Will Florida Mark the End of Trump Presidency? - August 20, 2017


FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA – The “brunch” is on the road for the next two weeks, assessing what’s going on in the politics of some key states. Those states might decide the fates and fortunes of the Trump Presidency and the Republican-led Congress in 2018 and 2020, so let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“As Florida Goes; So, Goes the Nation” – The Sunshine State is becoming a bellwether of American politics, not only a key battleground for the White House, but for Congressional influence as well. In the last ten Presidential elections, Florida has been on the losing side only once. Now, as the third most populous state, with 29 Electoral College votes, it’s a kingmaker.

“The First Test” – The 2018 midterm Congressional elections will indeed be the first litmus test of Donald Trump’s Presidency. It will be the first time that voters nationwide will get to vote up or down on House and Senate candidates, in part based on their support of Trump. Republicans are strongly targeting six U.S. Senate seats, including the one occupied by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) is term-limited and may run for the Senate. Some polls show Nelson with a big lead for now; while other polls are much closer. Other candidates are in, too, so this could be a big fight.

“20/20 Vision” – I am all but certain that President Trump will face a challenge for re-nomination in 2020. The first name that comes to mind is that of Governor John Kasich (R-OH). Kasich is termed-out and has just over a year left as Ohio Governor. He was never a Trump guy. Even after many in the GOP begrudgingly supported their nominee, Kasich did not. He didn’t even attend the Republican National Convention, which was held in Cleveland. Kasich is one of a few prominent Republicans on the national stage who will be able to say, “See! I told you so!” He has a long resume and could carry the key swing state of Ohio. Keep an eye on him.

“Internal Party Fights” – In my lifetime, four sitting Presidents faced internal party fights when they were up for re-nomination. Their opponents are in parentheses: Lyndon Johnson (Senator Eugene McCarthy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and others); Gerald Ford (Governor Ronald Reagan); Jimmy Carter (Senator Ted Kennedy); and George H.W. Bush (Pat Buchanan). In each case, the incumbent either dropped out or lost in the general election. Primary fights are expensive and bruising. And when party members can’t rally around an incumbent, that makes independent voters more likely to bolt, as well. An internal party challenge to President Trump in 2020 seems probable.

“Marco Rubio” – Since we are in Florida and talking about a potential nomination challenge to President Trump, I must mention some possible Sunshine State candidates. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) ran for President in 2016 and was crushed. But in 2020, he’ll be in his second U.S. Senate term, and will still be just 49 years old. Of Cuban decent from South Florida, he will have huge appeal in the all-important Hispanic demographic, not just in Florida, but nationwide. He has already condemned President Trump’s confusing and seemingly contradictory remarks about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, so Rubio may be planning another White House bid.

“Jeb Bush” – Former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) may be making plans for another White House bid soon, as well. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush issued strong anti-racism statements this week; and while they did not mention President Trump or his comments directly, there appeared to be implied criticism of Trump's response to the incidents in Charlottesville. Look! It’s no secret that members of the powerful Bush family are not fans of Trump. The elder Bushes may be urging Jeb towards another Presidential run.

“The Florida Melting Pot” – People have often asked me whether the Southern states vote in a block; and for many years, my answer was “Yes.” Why has Florida now bucked the trend? Yes, Florida is still very Southern, but with an influx of millions of people from New York and the Northeast along the I-95 corridor and with so many Midwesterners along the I-75 corridor, it is truly a state of many diverse people, cultures, and voices. Florida is beholden to neither political party.

“Trump’s Not Done” – I’ve had many people tell me in the past week that the Trump Presidency is over and simply can’t recover from the latest controversies. I disagree. Incumbency is a powerful asset, and being the current occupant of the White House is an advantage never to be discounted. To be sure, Trump is his own worst enemy. The constant provocative tweeting and then the mixed messages on Charlottesville do not serve him well. But neither did the crude “Access Hollywood” tapes, and Trump still won the election. Folks, it’s August, 2017; and we are a long, long way from November, 2020. A lot can happen between now and then.

Do you think President Trump is finished, or does his Presidency still have legs? Just click the comment button at

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