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Is Our President Learning?

It's hard to believe Trump will be able to resist red meat and scorched earth for very long.
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On the content of the president's speech Thursday night, I agree with Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College who was once a GOP Senate aide. In the New York Daily News, Nichols writes:

It was a bad speech.

It wasn’t bad in the way most of Donald Trump’s speeches are bad, in that it was not overtly objectionable. It was relatively free of the populist claptrap and barely disguised racism that characterizes so many of the president’s rally addresses....

Instead, it was just a poorly written speech: a long, cliché-plagued, rambling trip through American history that tried to name-check battles and famous people as applause lines. Imagine “We Didn’t Start the Fire” if Billy Joel had been born in 1776 and his producers told him to take as much time as he needed to finish the song.

The speech had a poor grasp of history: It conflated the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and it referred to Washington's forces as an army "named after the great George Washington," which suggests that one of the writers saw a reference to "Washington's Army" somewhere -- Wikipedia? -- and thought it was a proper name. But the speech will be remembered most for Trump's assertion that Washington's army "took over the airports" -- in the eighteenth century.

But Trump's decision to take the high ground, however cynical or calculated it night have been, seems to have paid off. Here's this Friday morning's lead story at CNN.com:

President Donald Trump was as good as his word Thursday: He saluted America.

In one of the least polarizing speeches of his presidency, Trump paid tribute to America's armed forces at a July Fourth appearance before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington that unfolded amid stormy skies and criticism that he was politicizing the nation's Independence Day celebrations....

Trump's speech, delivered close to the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream speech," lacked the dark imagery of many of his campaign speeches and struck a more optimistic tone than he typically adopts.

... Trump's speech lacked the partisan rhetoric of his rallies. But the event nevertheless bolstered the President's narrative that he is a strong commander in chief and a decisive leader.

Trump has wanted to star in a public display of military might for years. It's possible that if he'd done this in 2017, when he first discussed the idea, or 2018, when he brought it up again, he would also have confined his remarks to a middle-school recitation of patriotic platitudes, and avoided his usual bullying demagoguery.

But I wonder. This event comes shortly after we learned that Trump's reelection polling numbers are terrible, even in the campaign's own polling. Up to that point, it appeared that Trump wouldn't even try to reach beyond his base in order to be reelected. But there he was shortly afterward, giving interviews to ABC's George Stephanopoulos and NBC's Chuck Todd. Interviews to reporters from the fake news! That's not like Trump.

Is he learning? Has he genuinely begun to understand that he needs swing voters in order to win again?

If so, he might be harder to beat than he appeared to be a month or two ago. I've never thought he'd be easy to beat -- Trump campaign cash, GOP vote suppression, the mainstream media's loathing of genuine progressivism, and unpredictable acts of skulduggery could easily combine to give him a win again. But I thought he was sabotaging himself with a base-only strategy, and now it appears he might be changing his approach.

But he's still Trump. It's hard to believe he'll be able to resist red meat and scorched earth for very long. He's much more likely on any given day to be the old Trump than the semi-civilized Trump we've seen on these few occasions. Not being obnoxious is hard work for him. Being obnoxious is easy.

And it may not matter. According to June polling from Morning Consult, Trump is viewed unfavorably in every state he lost in 2016 plus Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In 2020, if he were to lose every state where he has negative favorability, he'd lose the Electoral College by a two-to-one margin.

So maybe it doesn't matter how he campaigns. I think he could win, but I think it's also possible that the country is simply sick of him and can't wait to throw the bum out.

Published with permission from No More Mr. Nice Blog

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