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Sunday Political Brunch - The Politics of Distraction -- October 1, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – It was another weird week for the White House (and for politics in general). Last week, I wrote that President Trump – whose poll numbers had been rising – was just one Tweet away from turning the uptick into a setback, and that Tweet was soon forthcoming. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“NFL Penalty” – It didn’t start with a Tweet, but a Tweet surely escalated the situation. Last Friday night at a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump said of a football player who kneels or sits in protest during the national anthem: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He's fired. He's fired!" The ensuing days brought protests both on and off the playing field – not to mention the Trump-Tweet firestorm that seized up social media from Facebook, Twitter, and beyond. In the world of politics, the protests and Trump's comments just seemed to suck all the oxygen out of the room for the President's immediate agenda. When one issue distracts, the priorities of the whole agenda are in peril.

“No Sweet Home Alabama” – Trump was in Alabama to campaign for Senator Luther Strange (R-AL), who was trying to win a full term after having been appointed to fill the seat once occupied by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is now the U.S. Attorney General. In spite of Trump's endorsing and campaigning for him, Strange lost the Republican Senate primary on Tuesday to controversial former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. In essence, it was the first Congressional election defeat for Trump, as the GOP has won every House special election since he took office. Plus, Judge Moore was backed by former Trump aide Steve Bannon, recently ousted from the White House inner circle. Ouch!!!

“Put a Cork in It” – Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) surprised a lot of people this week, when he announced he would not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate. Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has often been at odds with President Trump. However, Tennessee has been a solidly red state of late, so I suspect that the GOP will retain this seat in 2018 and that Corker's departure won’t hurt the balance of power in the Senate. On the other hand, the President has thirteen months to stir up more controversy, so the balance of power in the 2018 midterm elections should not be presumed.

“Legislative Score Card” – With the defeat of the Obamacare repeal (once again), the White House is still left with no legislative victories eight months into the administration. The only win remains Senate confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, that is a huge win because it could have an impact decades after President Trump is gone, but it’s an appointment – not a policy victory. Now tax reform is on the table, with an uncertain outcome ahead. Overall this has not been a good year for White House-Congressional relations, and Republicans own “all three legs of the bar stool.”

“The Taxing Business of Tax Reform” – The White House promises to cut taxes for the most heavily taxed middle class Americans. (Already, almost half of Americans pay no federal income tax or get what they have paid refunded.) The Trump tax reform bill also would reduce seven income tax brackets to just three, and would significantly cut the corporate income tax rate. The goal is to make the U.S. more competitive in the global marketplace. We’ll see. But the big issue here is not really taxes; it’s whether President Trump can get any significant legislation passed through both the House and Senate that he can sign into law.

“Other Distractions” – As if the President needed any more headaches, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, embarrassed the administration by taking expensive chartered flights at taxpayers' expense. Secretary Price said that he would reimburse the government; but, given that he had failed in the attempt to repeal Obamacare, one wondered how long he would last. As it turns out, not very long! On Friday, Price tendered his resignation; and Trump accepted it. If you are keeping score, Trump has already had public issues concerning his Attorney General, his Secretary of State, and now his Secretary of Health and Human Services. Does Trump need any more of this? He might have been wise to just let the Price matter go; but that’s not really Trump's style.

“What All of This Means?” – The 2018 elections are just thirteen months away. Yes, Republicans have strong leads in both the House and Senate, but will they hold? The fact that President Trump has had no significant legislative wins should sound the alarm bells for the Republican National Committee. It should also awaken the Democratic National Committee to the opportunity for members of the lethargic minority party to make some gains, rather than just sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. Politics is a business grounded in seizing opportunity, and I’m not sure the national Democratic Party sees that yet for 2018.

Is President Trump too easily driven to distraction? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch: Is President Trump Getting a Bounce? -- September 24, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – Despite low approval ratings for much of his eight months in the White House, President Trump is now seeing an uptick in some national public opinion polls. The reasons may be many, but the big question is will this be short-lived or a long-term surge? Well, the answer depends on a lot of factors. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“By the Numbers” – This week, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll had Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 43 percent, up from 40 percent in August. The Marist Poll gave him a rise from 35 to 39 percent during the same period. In the CNN poll, he ticked up to 40 percent in September, from 38 percent in August. So, yes, he’s getting a bounce, albeit a modest one.

“Bipartisan Vibe” – The President has sent a lot of mixed signals since January, at times standing with Republicans, warring against Democrats. And then, more recently, choosing sides with the Democrats on some key issues. Americans like it when Congress and the White House govern in a bipartisan fashion. For example, a CNN Poll in July showed that 77 percent of the public wanted Congress and the White House to find a bipartisan solution to the health care debate, instead of just gutting Obamacare.

“Move It on Over” – Well, bipartisanship hasn’t happened on health care; but on two other issues the President likely scored points that brought up his approval numbers. First, he sided with Democratic Congressional leaders on a plan to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government from shutting down. Then, he announced that he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) were in general agreement on trying to pass a bill regarding DACA, the policy that would allow children who were brought to this country illegally to stay if certain conditions were met. While that policy has some ways to go before becoming law, it - at the very least - shows a willingness to compromise and cooperate on both sides.

“North, by North Korea” – Some of the polls this week surveyed people after President Trump spoke at the United Nations, but other polls were conducted before his speech. Still, his hardline stance against North Korea (and that from others in his administration, such as Defense Secretary James Mattis and U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley) have bolstered his no-nonsense approach. The President told the General Assembly, “If… forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. The United States is ready, willing, and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary… That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.” He not only called out Kim Jong Un; he called out U.N. leaders, too. My guess is that even a lot of Trump detractors liked his rhetoric after all the menacing and unprovoked North Korean threats and missile launches.

“Disaster Aid Equals Presidential Aid” – It’s one of the simplest rules in Presidential politics. When Americans are in crisis and need help, you show up in person to show you care. President Trump received high marks for the tone of his visits to damaged areas following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Certainly, you can sign all the disaster declaration letters, and put all the federal aid you can muster into motion from the White House or aboard Air Force One; but if you delay in showing up – as President George W. Bush did during Hurricane Katrina – you upset a lot of people. To be sure, a President’s physical presence on a disaster scene does nothing for the actual relief effort. But what it does show is caring, compassion, and concern – traits we like to see in our leaders. Yes, its symbolic leadership; but it’s something Americans have come to expect.

“How Long Will the Bounce Last?” – That’s an eternal question in politics, which is essentially a love-hate business. President Trump’s sudden, resurging threat to repeal and replace Obamacare could erode some of his newfound support, especially from the other side of the aisle. But if he’s victorious, it could help him among establishment Republicans who still keep him at arm’s length. Quite honestly, the President’s biggest vulnerability might be an ill-advised tweet that upsets a cross-section of the public. He’s had a penchant for doing that. As I always say about politicians, their worst wounds are often self-inflicted. Stay tuned.

“Why All of This Matters” -- Governing is a difficult dance. You can be wildly popular one day, but a total “goat” the next. Some of it is within your control; much of it is not. But successful governing takes public and political support. It takes loyalty to stick by your party; but sometimes bold courage to reach across the aisle. If it were easy, every President would be a success. I suspect President Trump – after a pretty rough first eight months – is experimenting, just as so many of his predecessors did. If your game plan is not working, maybe it’s time to try another strategy. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, an olive branch to the other party can earn you greater respect from a skeptical public – at least for trying to be bipartisan, even if that effort doesn’t succeed.

We want to hear your opinion. Has President Trump turned a corner in how he governs? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst, and writer based in West Virginia, where he serves as Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving the Mountain State.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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