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Sunday Political Brunch: Before and After the Storms -- January 28, 2018

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CHARLESTON, WV – This is what I call a “tween” week in politics. We’re between the first anniversary of President Trump’s Inaugural (and a now ended partial government shutdown), and his first State of the Union address. There will be lots of chatter in the days ahead about “what was” and “what might be” to come. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Great Expectations” – I don’t mean to steal the title of a classic novel, but the State of the Union address always seems to sum up that theme. In my lifetime (which dates back to President Eisenhower), I have yet to watch a State of the Union address that ultimately had any significant consequence. Yes, there were some great lines delivered by the likes of John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and others, but, the speeches were more an exercise in political cheerleading, and less a public policy road map that ever got followed to any great degree. It’s like a Broadway show that opens and closes on the same night – political theater; little more.

“Could 2018 Be Different?” – I suppose so. Let’s face it, the Trump campaign and the administration have tossed out the traditional playbook (and maybe the rule book) of politics as usual. This is also the most controversial and divisive President I can remember, with approval ratings at all-time lows. Despite that, financial markets are booming and we’re in a time of relative peace (the two factors that often boost the popularity of the Commander in Chief). Again Trump, performs to the beat of a different drummer. He ran as an outsider and he remains an outsider; unlike the politically savvy Ronald Reagan who managed the political Houdini act of running as an outsider, albeit fully understanding how to grease the wheels inside the Beltway.

“On the Menu” – Topping the list, I predict he will talk about the state of the economy, and that the December tax cut legislation is already paying dividends to average people (and yes, shareholders, too). As mentioned, financial markets are hot, plus more and more big companies are announcing employee bonuses and pay raises. “Is this a long-term trend, or just a bubble?” we all ask. I bet he will claim ownership of the economy. Immigration will certainly be a focus, and I wonder if this is the moment he will lay out specifics with a bipartisan deal on DACA. Yes, he’ll still demand a border wall, I predict. He’ll probably talk tough on North Korea, and of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but I anticipate no big foreign policy decisions. Like Reagan, I expect he will try to appeal directly to the people; not the press and policy makers.

“Everything Means Less Than Zero” – Should President Trump channel rock singer Elvis Costello in his speech? I’m serious! One of my favorite Costello lyrics comes from his song, “Less than Zero.” He sings, “Let's talk about the future now, we've put the past away.” While I’m hoping for a more visionary, forward looking State of the Union speech, I worry it’s going to be more of a visitation of old fights. I expect attacks on the “fake news” press, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and possibly direct jabs on the policies of former Presidents Obama and Bush II. President Trump isn’t one to let old feuds go. As Senator Lindsey Graham, (R) South Carolina recently characterized him, President Trump is a “street fighter.”

“Waiting in the Wings” – It will be interesting to see camera shots of reactions in the crowd. The State of the Union is often a cameo for would-be Presidents. Thursday is February 1, and honestly the starting gate for the 2020 race for the White House. Watch for reaction shots of not only potential Democratic rivals, but Republicans, too. If you see retiring Senator Jeff Flake (R) Arizona sitting on his hands and not applauding the President with other Republicans, you can bet Flake may be calculating a 2020 primary challenge to take the nomination from Trump. Before the end of February, we will have candidates from both parties visiting New Hampshire.

“Looking Out My Backdoor” – I’m on a musical bent this week. As a former radio DJ, one of my favorite songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival, was “Looking Out My Backdoor.” When I look out my backdoor here in West Virginia, I see Ohio. There are two things two remember about the Buckeye State. 1) No Republican has ever been elected President without carrying Ohio; and, 2) Ohio has produced amongst the most President in U.S. history. Keep your eye on retiring Governor John Kasich, (R), Ohio. My bet is he’s among those first to visit New Hampshire, and will strongly consider trying to defeat Mr. Trump for renomination in 2020. Out the back door I can also see maverick Senator Rand Paul, (R) Kentucky, and wonder if he might run again, too.

“Why All of This Matters” – As I often preach here, success is about what I call, “The Four M’s of Politics!” They are money, momentum, manpower and message. President Trump has the personal wherewithal to mount a reelection campaign, even without donations (though I suspect he’d seek them); he will clearly try to claim momentum on the U.S. economy; he will have challenges to securing manpower being unpopular in sectors of his own party, but if things are going just as well a year from now, people like to jump on the bandwagon; and, finally – perhaps his most difficult challenge – staying on message. From the “Tweet wars” to the relentless media bashing, and proclivity to refight old fights, “message” may be his Achilles Heel. Stay tuned!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known Political Analyst having covered part, or all, of every Presidential election since 1980. He is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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

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