The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 5: Feb. 5, 2019
- State of the Union: Trump’s sneaky success
- Woke America comes for Ralph Northam
- Joni Ernst shows all her cards
State of the Union:
With the unpleasantries of the shutdown behind them — for now at least — Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited President Trump to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Trump has mostly good news for the nation. But he also faces challenging circumstances in the form of his own poll numbers and an irate, congressionally empowered opposition.
The Trump-era economy is booming. Not even the Democrats can credibly dispute what the incredible jobs numbers (304,000 in January) showed once again last month, in spite of the month-long government shutdown. Yes, there are signs of concern in the markets, but even these should evaporate if Trump is able to reopen trade with China on better terms and move his North American trade deal through Congress.
If the old adage is true — It’s the economy, stupid — then Trump should be on easy street. But it just isn’t so.
Pros and Cons:
Between the stiff opposition from the Democrats and the media, and the abrasive style that made him famous, Trump continues to put off a moderate, white suburban demographic that it is very hard for him to win without. This demographic shift showed up in Republicans’ loss of congressional seats in suburban Texas and Georgia — two states Trump cannot win without.
Then again, Trump’s numbers, at 42/55 approve/disapprove (per the RealClear average), are still basically within the very consistent and narrow band where they have been throughout his presidency, between about 37 percent and 44 percent approval . Recall that his favorability was even lower than that on the day he won the presidency in 2016.
In that context, and having backed down in his first border security standoff against Pelosi last month, Trump enters the House chamber on Tuesday with a chance to sell his side of the story. The economic part is easy. The part involving the recent shutdown and showdown over border security could be more interesting.
Trump will likely remind the American public that he is trying to keep his promise on border security. He may try to take the high road, arguing that he’s still counting on Democrats behaving in a reasonable fashion on the issue, whatever that’s supposed to mean nowadays. Or he may lay into them as opponents of border security, half of whom want to abolish ICE. In that case, he might even announce the need to build his wall via emergency order.
On the foreign policy front, Trump has some promising initiatives he can mention, many of which have bipartisan support. He spoke optimistically in his Super Bowl interview about North Korea wanting to make a lasting deal. With a key military defection over the weekend, he may be on the edge of toppling the illegal socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, which only a handful of far-left Democrats is angry about.
Trump will likely bring up the missile treaty that Vladimir Putin has been openly violating for years, and his rationale from withdrawing from it in retaliation. And he can boast about skyrocketing exports of U.S. natural gas, which weaken Putin’s hand in Eastern Europe.
All in all, Trump has more concrete successes to discuss in his annual address than most people might expect, given how controversially his presidency is framed in every media narrative. The speech offers him a real opportunity to cut through the clutter and (often self-created) chaos and demonstrate how sneaky successful his administration has been so far.
On Friday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized for the lapse of judgment that led to
his appearance in a photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. This photograph was controversial because it featured one white man in blackface and another dressed as a klansman. It remains unclear which one is supposed to be Northam, but it is featured on his personal page of the yearbook, and he did apologize for it, so it was
presumed he must have been one of them.
But then, over the weekend, Northam incredibly backtracked on his apology, claiming that it isn’t him in the photo after all. But he acknowledged that he had, on at least one other occasion, blackened his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.
This story was already quite weird enough, if only because Republicans somehow failed to
scour Northam’s medical school yearbook in the 2017 election. That’s just political malpractice. But now add in the governor’s evident dishonesty as a new factor in this bizarre controversy that could abruptly lead to his resignation.
Virginia’s U.S. senators (both Democrats) have now joined scores of other Democratic officials (including Nancy Pelosi and multiple presidential candidates) in calling on Northam to resign. And taken in context — for example, the increasingly identity-dominated Democrat party, and the Democrats’ attempts to use comparatively harmless jokes in Bret Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook last year — they don’t really have much of a choice. What the Woke Left demands in the Democratic Party, it tends to get.
In this particular case, it’s hard to argue with them. If that’s Northam in the photo, he is a college graduate in his mid-20s, no longer a kid, and well past the era when anyone viewed blackface as a harmless costume. (As for the klan outfit, no one in polite society has thought that a good idea for considerably longer.)
And if it isn’t Northam in the photo, then he must have worn blackface or klan costumes often enough that he wasn’t originally sure whether it was a picture of him. Why else would he have apologized for it on Friday? It’s a lot like Anthony Weiner’s famous uncertainty as to whether a picture of his genitalia, having been made public, actually belonged to him or not. Either there exist such photos in circulation, or there don’t.
Northam’s plight will potentially weigh on Democrats this fall as they seek to flip either the state House or Senate with a change of just two seats in their favor.
Compounding Virginia Democrats’ problem is another self-inflicted wound — the extremist abortion-up-to-birth bill that they proposed last week. The proposal was completely unnecessary and primed to backfire. Moreover, it was Northam’s support of this bill that prompted a former medical school classmate to bring the klansman photo to the public’s attention.
It is seldom pondered in the liberal Washington media, but the Democratic Party’s increasingly strident leftism could well be a problem in a state like Virginia, which has been trending Democratic but more in line with the soft suburban model than with the “socialist woke” model.
Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary and Gov. Tom Vilsack, D, is said to be considering a challenge to freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, R. The former two-term governor would be a formidable challenger, but Ernst is a strong incumbent and her state is among the more Trump-friendly. Another possible opponent is J.D. Scholten, D, who nearly upset Rep. Steve King in November.
Ernst’s current situation is interesting. She is now, one might say, a more sympathetic and human candidate in relation to revelations about her divorce from an allegedly abusive spouse. And in the context of having that information leaked, she also chose to reveal that she had been a rape victim in college.
Politically speaking, Ernst has made the most of the situation in which she found herself, having intimate family details dug up in such a manner by a local blog. But one could also argue that such attention as her divorce brought to the forefront is distracting and unwelcome at a time when she’s gearing up for what could become a heated re-election.