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Sunday Political Brunch: Before and After the Storms—January 28, 2018

Sunday, January 28, 2018
Mark Curtis, GoLocalPDX Contributor

Mark Curtis
This is what I call a “tween” week in politics. We’re between the first anniversary of President Trump’s Inaugural (and a now ended partial government shutdown), and his first State of the Union address. There will be lots of chatter in the days ahead about “what was” and “what might be” to come. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Great Expectations” – I don’t mean to steal the title of a classic novel, but the State of the Union address always seems to sum up that theme. In my lifetime (which dates back to President Eisenhower), I have yet to watch a State of the Union address that ultimately had any significant consequence. Yes, there were some great lines delivered by the likes of John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and others, but, the speeches were more an exercise in political cheerleading, and less a public policy road map that ever got followed to any great degree. It’s like a Broadway show that opens and closes on the same night – political theater; little more.

“Could 2018 Be Different?” – I suppose so. Let’s face it, the Trump campaign and the administration have tossed out the traditional playbook (and maybe the rule book) of politics as usual. This is also the most controversial and divisive President I can remember, with approval ratings at all-time lows. Despite that, financial markets are booming and we’re in a time of relative peace (the two factors that often boost the popularity of the Commander in Chief). Again Trump, performs to the beat of a different drummer. He ran as an outsider and he remains an outsider; unlike the politically savvy Ronald Reagan who managed the political Houdini act of running as an outsider, albeit fully understanding how to grease the wheels inside the Beltway.

“On the Menu” – Topping the list, I predict he will talk about the state of the economy, and that the December tax cut legislation is already paying dividends to average people (and yes, shareholders, too). As mentioned, financial markets are hot, plus more and more big companies are announcing employee bonuses and pay raises. “Is this a long-term trend, or just a bubble?” we all ask. I bet he will claim ownership of the economy. Immigration will certainly be a focus, and I wonder if this is the moment he will lay out specifics with a bipartisan deal on DACA. Yes, he’ll still demand a border wall, I predict. He’ll probably talk tough on North Korea, and of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but I anticipate no big foreign policy decisions. Like Reagan, I expect he will try to appeal directly to the people; not the press and policy makers.

“Everything Means Less Than Zero” – Should President Trump channel rock singer Elvis Costello in his speech? I’m serious! One of my favorite Costello lyrics comes from his song, “Less than Zero.” He sings, “Let's talk about the future now, we've put the past away.” While I’m hoping for a more visionary, forward looking State of the Union speech, I worry it’s going to be more of a visitation of old fights. I expect attacks on the “fake news” press, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and possibly direct jabs on the policies of former Presidents Obama and Bush II. President Trump isn’t one to let old feuds go. As Senator Lindsey Graham, (R) South Carolina recently characterized him, President Trump is a “street fighter.”

“Waiting in the Wings” – It will be interesting to see camera shots of reactions in the crowd. The State of the Union is often a cameo for would-be Presidents. Thursday is February 1, and honestly the starting gate for the 2020 race for the White House. Watch for reaction shots of not only potential Democratic rivals, but Republicans, too. If you see retiring Senator Jeff Flake (R) Arizona sitting on his hands and not applauding the President with other Republicans, you can bet Flake may be calculating a 2020 primary challenge to take the nomination from Trump. Before the end of February, we will have candidates from both parties visiting New Hampshire.

“Looking Out My Backdoor” – I’m on a musical bent this week. As a former radio DJ, one of my favorite songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival, was “Looking Out My Backdoor.” When I look out my backdoor here in West Virginia, I see Ohio. There are two things two remember about the Buckeye State. 1) No Republican has ever been elected President without carrying Ohio; and, 2) Ohio has produced amongst the most President in U.S. history. Keep your eye on retiring Governor John Kasich, (R), Ohio. My bet is he’s among those first to visit New Hampshire, and will strongly consider trying to defeat Mr. Trump for renomination in 2020. Out the back door I can also see maverick Senator Rand Paul, (R) Kentucky, and wonder if he might run again, too.

“Why All of This Matters” – As I often preach here, success is about what I call, “The Four M’s of Politics!” They are money, momentum, manpower and message. President Trump has the personal wherewithal to mount a reelection campaign, even without donations (though I suspect he’d seek them); he will clearly try to claim momentum on the U.S. economy; he will have challenges to securing manpower being unpopular in sectors of his own party, but if things are going just as well a year from now, people like to jump on the bandwagon; and, finally – perhaps his most difficult challenge – staying on message. From the “Tweet wars” to the relentless media bashing, and proclivity to refight old fights, “message” may be his Achilles Heel. Stay tuned!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known Political Analyst having covered part, or all, of every Presidential election since 1980. He is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.


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