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Do You Get “Do-Overs” in Politics?—Sunday Political Brunch - July 22, 2018

Sunday, July 22, 2018
Mark Curtis, GoLocalPDX Contributor

Mark Curtis
We all make mistakes – politicians, too! How many times in life do we seek a “do over” to set things right? The world of politics is harsh, but it is also very forgiving. People seemingly dead in political life, have a history of rising from the ashes only to be embraced by the public again. Think Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and perhaps more recently Governor-turned-Congressman Mark Sanford, although he has since been voted out. Can President Trump bounce back from a difficult and challenging week? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“From Russia, Not with Love!” - At a joint news conference at their summit in Finland, President Trump said he challenged Russian President Putin about meddling is the 2016 U.S. presidential election. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said. The response was deafening from both parties which chastised Trump for dissing American intelligence. House Speaker Paul Ryan, (R) Wisconsin, was unequivocal. “There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world… Russia is not our ally,” said Ryan. “That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence,” he added.

“Walking It Back” – The very next day, President Trump changed his tune. "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said, but added, "Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. But there was no collusion." Trump has now invited President Putin to the White House this fall for a continuation of their discussions. I bet that makes a lot of the GOP nervous as we near the November elections. Is this part of a “do over” strategy? Stay tuned.

“Clinton v. Lewinsky” – On August 17, 1998, President Clinton testified before a federal grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky and then he addressed the nation on TV that night. He said, in part, “Our country has been distracted by this matter for too long, and I take my responsibility for my part in all of this. That is all I can do. Now it is time -- in fact, it is past time to move on… And so tonight, I ask you to turn away from the spectacle of the past seven months…” The one thing he did not say was, “I’m sorry!” Or, “I apologize.” He was roundly booed by both parties. Days later, he publicly apologized at a National Prayer Breakfast in front of hundreds of members of the clergy. I covered that and maintain to this day, that it was, in fact, the day Clinton saved his presidency.

“Good Job, Brownie!” – President George W. Bush had a similar faux pas when assessing the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!” said Bush to then-FEMA Director Michael Brown. In fairness, the biggest failure in Katrina was the local and state government response, but the feds won no prizes for the response either. As with Trump, Bush was lambasted by both parties and eventually “Brownie” was sent packing, as part of White House damage control.

“Keep Your Friends Close; Your Enemies Closer” – On the other hand, did President Trump have a strategy here? He says he grilled and chastised Putin in private over the election meddling, but apparently only his translator knows for sure. His strategy may have been not to try to publicly shame and embarrass Putin at the news conference, to help Putin save face. It’s plausible, but certainly turned into a public relations disaster on U.S. soil. By tradition, U.S. lawmakers have a tradition of not criticizing a commander in chief while on foreign soil. But that all went out the window this week, with many Democrats and Republicans alike not holding back.

“Trump’s Woman Problems” – I have yet to hear anyone talk about gender – and maybe it’s nuanced – but I’m wondering if there was a bit of bias here. A week before the Russian summit President Trump was highly critical of both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Yet, when it came time to be similarly critical of President Vladimir Putin, he was soft on the Russian leader. The two ladies are staunch U.S. allies; Putin is not. Say what you want, but it gave the perception of, “The Good Old Boys Club!”

“Campaign 2018 Impact” – Many Republicans were very public in disagreeing with President Trump regarding U.S. intelligence and the Russian election meddling. There are likely two reasons they did that – a) many indeed believe he was wrong; and, b) it’s an election year. The GOP holds a 51-49 majority in the Senate, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room in November. And Republicans have only a 19-seat majority in the House, so control there is up for grabs, too. Members of Congress who are up for reelection this year, don’t need a President who is not on the ballot, to torpedo their majority.

“Now vs. November” – Here’s a rule of thumb if you are a politician. If you are going to put your foot in your mouth in an election year, do it in June or July when everyone is at the beach. Don’t do it in October or November, as people are focused and poised to go vote. I bet you a lot of people will either forget or forgive President Trump’s Russian miss-step, (unless he keeps doing it), by November 6th. Out of site; out of mind, has an impact on voters.

Was President Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin the fatal blow to his presidency? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar TV stations serving West Virginia and its bordering states.

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