February 6, 2020

I don't think it was a good idea for Nancy Pelosi to tear up her copy of the State of the Union address at the conclusion of the speech. I know Trump refused to shake her hand before the speech began. People on our side will say (correctly) that it's wrong to get upset over torn paper when Trump tears families apart, or they'll argue (also correctly) that Trump gets away with far more divisive acts. But Pelosi is supposed to be the unflappable one in the room. Last night she was trying to beat Trump playing his game, not hers. The clip will show up in GOP campaign ads for the rest of the year.

But I'm hoping this is the last bad moment in a bad week for Democrats -- or the second-last, after Trump's acquittal today. The Iowa caucuses were a debacle (though no one will remember them in November, or even in a week), and Trump got a better-than-expected Gallup poll number (though his job approval is still underwater). Nevertheless, I think this is precisely the peak Trump I was talking about on Sunday. It's possible that what we're seeing from Trump right now is hubris.

There were outreach moments in last night's State of the Union, but when you're asking your wife to hang a medal around Rush Limbaugh's neck on live TV, you've decided that you don't really need much more than the angry Republican base to get elected, and you don't need to be particularly conciliatory even in an election year.

We know from quite a few news reports that Trump is not at all interested in conciliation. After impeachment, he wants to focus on vengeance, not statesmanlike words and deeds with broad appeal. We know this from Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman:

Republicans briefed on Trump’s thinking believe that the president is out for revenge against his adversaries. “It’s payback time,” a prominent Republican told me last week. “He has an enemies list that is growing by the day,” another source said. Names that came up in my conversations with Republicans included Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Mitt Romney, and John Bolton. “Trump’s playbook is simple: go after people who crossed him during impeachment.”

And from Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast, who wrote about Trump's White House lunch with news anchors yesterday:

Much to the disappointment of folks at CNN, nobody at the long table—who included NBC’s Lester Holt and Chuck Todd, ABC’s David Muir and George Stephanopoulos, and CBS’s Norah O’Donnell and Margaret Brennan—bothered to ask why the president had gone out of his way to exclude the cable network run by Trump’s former friend Jeff Zucker.

“MSDNC isn’t here as well,” Trump quipped....

Trump ... was sanguine about his participation in the fall presidential debates, saying, ”Yeah, I’ll do it,” even though, he claimed, “the debate commission is filled with a bunch of Never Trumpers.”

... Trump ... promised that the White House will spare no effort in blocking his former national security adviser John Bolton’s book from publication....

We're told the assembled journalists described this as a "chill" Trump. If that's chill -- snubbing CNN, grumbling about the debate commission, boasting about his plans to engage in prior restraint of John Bolton's book -- not-chill Trump is going to be even uglier than usual.

Maybe America is numb to all this by now. Maybe America is lulled by low unemployment and a surging Dow. But I have my doubts -- according to the Real Clear Politics average, only 39.3% of Americans think America is on the right track, while 55.5% think it's on the wrong track. Across all polls, Trump's job disapproval is 7.1 points higher than his job approval -- and if I'm right, this is Trump at his peak of popularity.

If Trump plans to spend more time in the next year punishing John Bolton than trying to improve Americans' lives (though when has he ever really tried to do the latter?), then his numbers are likely to go down, especially if coronavirus weakens an economy that has probably also peaked.

For weeks, the lead voices in the news have been people like Adam Schiff and Jay Sekulow. Now it will be Trump again. When Trump dominates the news cycle, we're reminded of how obnoxious he is. And he's planning to be particularly obnoxious now.

Published with permission of No More Mr. Nice Blog

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