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The Trump Foreign Policy Doctrine May Be Taking Shape - Sunday Political Brunch April 29, 2018

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia – More and more these days, the focus of the White House seems to be on foreign policy. President Trump has had a mixed record on his domestic agenda, but like many of his predecessors, going abroad lets him act as more of a free agent. We may about to see more of this, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“France’ – It’s tit-for-tat. Last year the French government gave President Trump a lavish reception in Paris. This week Trump returned the favor by hosting French President Emmanuel Macron for a state dinner at the White House. Yes, it’s a lot of pomp and ceremony (not to mention great food and wine), but it’s also a show of international solidarity with our allies who have been jittery in the year-plus Trump term. And I know it sounds cliché, but it gives a very unconventional president the occasion to look “presidential” in the more conventional sense. President Trump also gained a new Secretary of State in Mike Pompeo this week.

“Little Rocket Man” – President Trump loves to call people names, and we should be used to it by now. During the presidential campaign, his rival Senator Ted Cruz, (R) Texas, was called, “Lyin’ Ted.” In the general election former Senator Hillary Clinton, (D) New York, simply was labeled, “Crooked Hillary.” Say what you want about Trump, but he knows something about marketing and creating a bumper sticker that sticks. So, when he started referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as, “Little Rocket Man” after his abysmal missile launches, the double-entendre did not fall on deaf ears. And, yes, many people found it hysterical and I’m sure it embarrassed Kim. But then this week the leaders of North and South Korea met at the DMZ for the first time in over a decade; and the Kim-Trump summit is next.

“DACA” – Despite some successes, the President also had a foreign policy setback this week. For the third time, a federal District Court or Court of Appeals, has stopped his non-enforcement of the DACA policy set forth by President Obama. Yes, DACA is more of an immigration issue than foreign policy, but it is indeed both. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will likely answer this issue. And if the courts rule against Trump, look for legislative efforts to reverse the decision – assuming Republicans keep control of Congress.

“Why Presidents Do This” – Every President in my lifetime (and likely before), felt hamstrung by the checks and balances of Congress and the Federal Courts – especially on domestic issues. But all Presidents have had a much freer hand on foreign policy. Why? Well, the Constitution only requires Senate approval on treaties with foreign counties, so you don’t have to mess with the often-unruly House. Second – especially since the advent of Air Force One – is the imagery of our president travelling to a foreign land, whether friend or foe. The photo ops with that jet on international soil, with world leaders shaking hands, is gold. It beats staying home locked in an ugly battle with Congress on a budget bill.

“Reagan’s Tough Talk Worked” – ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” shouted President Reagan while standing outside Brandenburg Gate in Berlin - forty years after the end of World War II - but still in the height of the Cold War. Several months later, the wall indeed came down – perhaps more due to the collapse of the Soviet economy, than the harshness of the rhetoric. But, words do matter. Reagan was always good at tough talk (and more importantly conveying the tone that he meant business – whether he’d really take any action or not). Trump’s bluster may be the same kind of tone that makes North Korea flinch and back down. We’ll see.

“Clinton – Iraq” – Not only does the Constitution give a president more latitude on international relations, the public does, too. Not long after President Clinton took office, there was an assassination plot in the Mideast, to kill the man he had just defeated, President George H. W. Bush. Clinton responded by launching cruise missiles into Baghdad. “The Iraqi attack against President Bush was an attack against our country and against all Americans. We could not, and have not, let such action against our nation go unanswered. A firm response from the first days of our Revolution, America’s security has depended on the clarity of this message: don’t tread on us!” It was one of those moments where Americans stood shoulder-to-shoulder regardless of party. Politically, it was a stroke of genius.

“A Nixonian Moment?” – For better, or for worse, Richard Nixon will always be remembered for three things: Resigning over Watergate; opening Cold War diplomacy with the Soviet Union; and, opening diplomatic relations with China. The first is a testimony to his raging political paranoia; the second and third a testimony for his brilliance for political courage and ability to seize a moment and create an opportunity. Nixon could be brilliant, even in his own darkness. Is President Trump sitting down with Kim Jong Un on the same level? Historically no, because Kim is not of the status of China or Russia. But Trump’s harsh rhetoric and tough talk, followed by diplomatic talks, may neutralized the North Korean threat. That’s huge!

“How’d He Get Here?” – Yes, a year and a half after he was elected a lot of people are still scratching their heads saying, “How on Earth did Trump get to the White House?” Like many people I have become a Netflix junkie, so let me recommend two shows. “Trump: An American Dream” is a fascinating four-part series with mostly news clips and TV shows from the 1970s to the present. Whether you love Trump or loathe him, it’s fascinating multi-media refresher course in where he came from and how he arrived at this moment in time. The other is the film, “Get Me Roger Stone.” In the end you will love or despise Stone for how he does what he does, but he provides a fascinating insight. Both programs are provocative and well-done!

What do you want President Trump to do on the international stage? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images.

Our First Ladies are a National Treasure – Sunday Political Brunch -- April 22, 2018

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia – I was sad to hear of former First Lady Barbara Bush’s passing this week at the age of 92. She was a remarkable woman and a political force in one of the nation’s most famous political dynasties. It made me think back on all the First Ladies who served in my lifetime, and their contributions to our country. Let’s wish them all a happy Mother’s Day in advance, and look at their legacies as we “brunch” this week:

“Beating Around the Bushes” – This is a family that, like the Kennedys, is now in its fourth consecutive generation in America politics. They are simply interwoven in the fabric of this country. Barbara Bush was the daughter-in-law to Senator Prescott Bush (R-CT); wife to President George H.W. Bush; mother to President George W. Bush and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and grandma of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. The family dynasty is by no means over, with Jeb Bush still viable on the national stage, and his son George P., just getting his political sea legs.

“The Kennedy Kin” – Quite honestly, the only other woman in American history that can match Barbara Bush is Rose Kennedy. Rose was the wife of British Ambassador Joe Kennedy; mom of President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy; grandma of Rep. Joseph Kennedy II (D-MA); and great-grandmother of current Rep. Joe Kennedy, (D-MA). There were many other elected Kennedys, too, within each generation.

“Of Politics and Pain” – One of the things I found remarkable about Barbara Bush and Rose Kennedy was their compassion for others, despite great personal loss in their own lives. Rose Kennedy lost two children in World War II, and then two sons to assassination. Barbara Bush lost a daughter to leukemia at a very young age. And, many people forget that First Lady Jackie Kennedy lost two children before her husband’s assassination. The tremendous grief they must have endured, especially while living in the public spotlight, is unfathomable. Yet, they endured, and their contributions post-tragedy were remarkable. I remember once talking about this in a college lecture I delivered and someone said, “But these are incredibly rich and powerful families.” My response was, “Pain is pain; and grief is grief. I can’t imagine what it must be like to bury a child, whether you’re politically-powerful, rich, poor, or in the middle.”

“Covering Jackie’s Funeral” – One of my most enduring memories of being a reporter in Washington, DC, was covering the burial of Jackie Kennedy Onassis at Arlington National Cemetery. No press was allowed at the graveside service, but we could share a pool feed of the event. With all due respect, that is too sanitized for me, although I do think it was respectful of the family. So, I set up along the long driveway to the public entrance of the cemetery hours ahead of the funeral cortege. Suddenly I heard a man singing the most off-key, horrendous rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. His singing was bad. Yet, he was waving a large American flag, and his passion and grief were palpable. When I interviewed him afterwards he was in tears, saying something to the effect of, “I came to this country from the West Indies. I never would have become what I have, without President Kennedy and his wife.” He was grief-stricken as the hearse carrying her casket passed us by. I’ll never forget him!

“Who’s My Favorite First Lady?” – It’s a tough call, but I am going to say Betty Ford. It’s interesting, some First Ladies are very politically active and outspoken (Hillary Clinton and Michele Obama), and some have been more quiet and reserved (Pay Nixon and Laura Bush). Some were clearly behind-the-scenes, influential political operatives (Eleanor Roosevelt and Nancy Reagan). But who had the longest imprint on America? I say Betty Ford. First, she dealt with breast cancer publicly and with candor (back then you couldn’t even say breast on TV). Then she dealt publicly with addiction. The openness and availability of non-judgmental substance abuse treatment in this county - for decades now - is all due to Betty Ford.

“Sometimes it’s the Small Things” – One of the more understated First Ladies in my lifetime was Lady Bird Johnson. While some of the others I mentioned here took on heavyweight issues such as health care reform, drug use, literacy, nutrition, and substance abuse treatment, some were forceful and effective on other issues. Lady Bird’s issue was highway beautification. You must remember the Interstate Highway System launched by President Eisenhower was still in its infancy through the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Lady Bird fought for limiting the number of billboards, and led a crackdown on littering. The fact that we can drive cross-country in such beauty is a testament to her passion and legacy.

“Why the Political Spouses Matter?” – I refer here to First Ladies, but more and more we are seeing First Gentlemen across the land. Folks, these are critical, important, and influential people. I’ve often felt sorry for political spouses, many of whom did not seek the spotlight, but were thrust on stage. But they are very crucial in our process, because they have the ear of a president, governor, senator, or all the way down to town council member. Political spouses can have great influence, and will say things to their partner that no one else will. When President George W. Bush told Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to “bring it on” in 2001, when he got back to the White House quarters he says First Lady Laura Bush scolded him, saying in effect, “Are you crazy? What were you thinking?” In short, political partners matter!

Who was your favorite First Lady and why? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving the Mountain State, and is a National Political Contributor for www.Patch.com.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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