David Brooks writes:
As several people have noticed, this was the most politically successful week of the Trump presidency.
First, President Trump’s job approval numbers are rising. When the impeachment inquiry got rolling in October his Gallup approval rating was 39. Now it’s 49. If he can hold this level, he’ll probably be re-elected.
Let's stop there. Is Trump's approval rating at near-parity now? Jacob Long of The Monkey Cage has serious doubts:
... is Trump really getting more popular? His recent polling gains have the hallmarks of a specific kind of polling error called differential nonresponse bias.
Long tells us that under circumstances like this, it's quite likely that pollsters are getting responses from more Republicans and fewer Democrats.
It may be that Trump’s approval is going up because Democrats feel demoralized by the apparently hopeless impeachment trial and so don’t feel like talking to pollsters. Or it could be that Republicans feel so moved to support Trump at when he’s under attack that they are more likely to talk to pollsters than usual.
Long analyzed polls that reported partisan breakdown and found that, yes, more Republicans seem to be responding than in previous surveys from the same pollsters. The difference was most noticeable in Gallup's surveys, but it's also showing up in other recent surveys.
This means there is reason to believe Trump’s historically stable job approval hasn’t changed much since before the impeachment process began.
So what else have you got, David Brooks?
To the extent that it was noticed, impeachment worked for Republicans and against Democrats. Approval of the Republican Party is now at 51 percent, its highest since 2005. More Americans now identify as Republicans than as Democrats. As Gallup dryly observed in announcing these numbers, “Gallup observed similar public opinion shifts when Bill Clinton was impeached.”
And guess which party swept the first election after Clinton's impeachment?
... Trump has cleverly reframed the election. I can see why Nancy Pelosi ripped up his State of the Union speech. It was the most effective speech of the Trump presidency.
In 2016, Trump ran a dark, fear-driven “American carnage” campaign. His 2016 convention speech was all about crime, violence and menace. The theme of this week’s speech was mostly upbeat “Morning in America.”
I don’t know if he can keep this tone....
There's no accounting for taste -- if Brooks thought the State of the Union address was warm and fuzzy, that's his right, though a lot of us thought it was more of Trump's usual partisan trash talk, and also thought it was, as The Atlantic's David Graham put it, "dark" and "bloody-minded." Graham wrote:
... Trump reached for violent examples to bolster the case for his preferred changes to immigration policy. “In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration,” he said. “In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can just no longer afford.” ...
Trump’s view of the world beyond America’s borders was no less dark—a globe occupied by rivals, rogue regimes, and terrorists. “In confronting these horrible dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense,” he said. Trump warned that “we have no choice but to annihilate” terrorists (but that they should be sent to Guantanamo Bay when captured.
But even if Brooks thought the State of the Union was all sunshine and puppies, please note that he posted this column after Trump's appearances yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast and in the East Room. Following those howls of rage and grievance, how could Brooks possibly write, "I don’t know if he can keep this tone" of "upbeat 'Morning in America'"? We just got our answer, David. He can't.
Trump’s speech reframes the election around this core question: Is capitalism basically working or is it basically broken?
Trump can run on the proposition that it’s basically working....
Americans seem to accept this position. Confidence in the economy is higher now than at any moment since the Clinton administration. According to Gallup, 59 percent of Americans say they are better off than they were a year ago. Three-quarters of Americans expect to be even better off a year from now.
Yes, but on the larger question -- is the country on the right track or the wrong track? -- "wrong track" has a 17-point lead, according to the Real Clear Politics average. That gloom about the country's direction has been consistent throughout Trump's presidency. This is astonishing in a country with low unemployment. (Of course, while unemployment may be low, how good are the jobs?)
It’s hard to defeat a president in good times. U.C.L.A. political scientist Lynn Vavreck, the author of “The Message Matters” and a co-author of “Identity Crisis,” has found that the rare candidates who do succeed find issues that voters care about just as much. In 1960, John Kennedy ran on the missile gap. In 1968, Richard Nixon ran on law and order. In 2016, Trump ran on Middle America identity politics.
What would that issue be?
Even David Brooks can't be that stupid. The issue is Trump.
I wish the issue were the Republican Party, which throws stumbling blocks in the way of universal, affordable healthcare coverage and won't allow us to do anything about climate change or gun violence, while demagoguing a hundred other issues and clogging the courts with far-right zealots. But this year the moral issue is Trump. The majority of Americans despise him and would have been happy to see him removed from office. He sickens people.
Republicans might have the message discipline to make the election all about Burisma or socialism or Mike Bloomberg's height, but if Trump opponents stand firm, the election will be a referendum on Trump. Can David Brooks possibly be unable to grasp that?
Republished with permission from No More Mister Nice Blog.