As Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech page by page, she put the finishing touches on one of the greatest political rehab jobs of all time. The Democrats have managed to turn Trump into a thoroughly sympathetic figure.
From the start, Trump has not been treated like a normal president by people on either end of the political spectrum. On the left, Trump is viewed as a fascist, un-American monster, thoroughly unprepared for and undeserving of the highest office in our land. They never accepted his election and never gave him a chance – angling for impeachment even before Trump was sworn into office.
On the other side, for a big chunk of the American right, Trump is viewed more as a messianic figure than a politician. These are Trump's core voters, people so frustrated by normal politicians that they were willing and eager to pass the reins to Trump. Their devotion to Trump is complete, and there is nothing that could erode it.
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The question, as always in politics, has been what happens with the middle portion of our country – those who may not view Trump as the devil or the messiah. For the longest time, it seemed like Trump was driving these people away. With his middle-of-the-night tweet sessions, questionable comments after Charlottesville and truly embarrassing staffing choices (remember Omarosa Manigault and Anthony Scaramucci), the more persuadable independents in our country had plenty of reasons to be leery of Trump.
In Washington – and maybe in New York and Hollywood, too – the talk is still all Trump all the time. The left has been clear that anyone even remotely friendly to Trump must be destroyed.
Nobody likes it when America is torn apart. But if you get out and speak with people in the rest of America, what you hear is very different. They see Trump as a pretty normal president, and a pretty damn good one at that. They like how our economy is performing and give Trump's tax and regulatory policies a lot of credit for it. They see their 401(k) plans going up. New jobs are available, including manufacturing jobs. The U.S. is the world's premier energy producer. They believe Trump's trade deals represent the interests of average Americans, which is refreshing in a country dominated by policies pushed by the Fortune 500. They look at what's happening in Washington as noise from people too obsessed with politics. Things in their towns are going pretty well, and they don't seem super inclined to change things up right now.
It's in this environment that the president came out and gave a highly normal, pretty moderate and pretty effective speech Tuesday night. He's even starting to look more presidential (or maybe we are just getting used to him). The Democrats keep screaming that Trump is a dangerous, racist lunatic, but then he gets on TV and sounds the exact opposite. The president honored numerous minority Americans. If anything, one of his strongest themes seemed to be the push to bridge racial divides in our country. He honored one of the last Tuskegee Airmen; he supported historically black colleges, low-income opportunity zones and school vouchers. He also pushed broadly popular policies like lowering prescription drug prices. With the exception of a few moments, this was not predominantly a right-wing speech. On other issues like paid family leave and prison reform, Trump seems to be expressly triangulating Democrats by taking the debate to their turf.
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After a speech that was generally unifying and positive, celebrating our great country, the last image voters were left with was an angry Pelosi slowly ripping apart each page of the president's speech. This sort of angry politics is sure to play great on CNN and "The View," but it will lose the Democrats the next election. Polls already show Trump surging in popularity since the flawed and nakedly political impeachment process began. He's now been acquitted overwhelmingly, and to top it off, according to Gallup, Trump is now at a 49% approval rating, his highest yet. On top of this, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union, is shooting up to the top of the Democratic primary battle. Everything is literally coming up Trump.
The activist wing of the Democratic party hates Trump so much that they can't stop themselves from lashing out. What they've done, though, is take a pretty polarizing politician and make him more likable. Ironically, Pelosi and other party leaders knew this would happen. For years, Pelosi warned of the dangers of a partisan impeachment effort, yet eventually she acquiesced. Turns out she was right. Ripping up the speech like a child just makes Trump look like the adult in the room. For all his strengths in politics, that's one achievement Trump never could have reached on his own.