Last week has to be counted as President Trump’s best since his election and inauguration. It was a week that should have shocked his detractors who have been assuming as a matter of faith that whatever momentary fit of public madness catapulted him into the Oval Office has passed.
As his administration reached the “100 Days” benchmark journalists and pundits like to use to measure a new leader’s out-of-the-box performance, they hurried to belittle his accomplishments, wondered why he hasn’t successfully changed the world, drained the swamp and destroyed ISIS, and suggested once again that many early Trump supporters are beginning to realize how ashamed they should be for having voted for the man.
Then they were faced with polls demonstrating that in spite of everything he and they have said in the last 100 days, the new president has managed not only to retain the fervent support of those who voted for him, but to bond with Republicans of all stripes, including most of those who might have been included in the “Never Trump” camp. The Washington Post reported to a slack-jawed readership that only about 2 percent of those who voted for Mr. Trump in November regret having done so, and that if he were to run against Hillary Clinton today, he would beat her by more than he did then.
The approval/disapproval numbers that appear to show him as unpopular actually simply demonstrate that the U.S. electorate is as deeply divided along partisan and ideological lines as it was in November and before. Democrats tend to see him as a bumbling if bombastic failure, while Republicans and, to a lesser extent, Independents support what he’s trying to do and seem pretty pleased that the man is in the White House.
As if the polls weren’t enough, Mr. Trump flew to Atlanta to address the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association. The NRA endorsed him early last year in the hope that he would be able to beat Hillary Clinton, whose declared intention to appoint a liberal or “progressive” anti-gun judge to the Supreme Court convinced millions of voters that her candidacy constituted an existential threat to their rights and freedoms. Mr. Trump not only beat her, but delivered on a pledge to appoint a conservative to the seat of the late Antonin Scalia, rolled back portions of the regulatory restrictions his predecessor had put into place to restrict firearms ownership, and stood before thousands of representatives of a wildly thankful core constituency to double down on the commitments he’s already delivered on.
Then he went to Harrisburg, Pa., to hold a rally that would stand in stark contrast to the goings-on at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, where tuxedo clad reporters joined the city’s liberal elite and celebrities from New York and Washington to excoriate him, predict his demise and condemn those dumb enough to have voted for him in November. It was quite a contrast, but what was most revealing was his performance in Atlanta and Harrisburg. While his detractors continue to claim that he’s an angry, thin-skinned bully or worse, the president was coming across as confident, loose and a man who has finally decided that he’s enjoying the presidency.
Oh, Mr. Trump has made some mistakes and will make more. Every new president does. And he’s going to lose as well as win battles with the Congress and the courts as every president has. But though his detractors may not be willing to admit it, he seems to have a grasp of what he can and cannot accomplish and on his ability as president to hold his base even when he can’t deliver exactly what they want while reaching out to others he’d like to bring on board.
The performance reminded me of something former Republican National Committee Chairman and current White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said back when the brash New Yorker was but one of a dozen or more Republican wannabes seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Priebus was talking constantly to all of them as they prepared for debate after debate, lest any of them forget that the ultimate goal was to win the White House rather than to beat each other to a bloody pulp.
“Every time I talk to Donald Trump, I leave realizing that he’s smarter than I thought he was the last time I talked to him.”
That’s something his opponents didn’t appreciate then — and still don’t today.
• David A. Keene is editor at large at The Washington Times.
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