It is now Trump's party
President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night underscored how he has redefined the Republicans' political base and their policy message on issues from trade to immigration to deficits to international alliances. While he struck a sunnier tone than he did in his inaugural address six weeks ago, when he had talked darkly of "American carnage," he once again warned that the nation was threatened with decline at home and threats from abroad.
He had led a political "earthquake" of disenchanted American voters in last year's election, he boasted. "They were united by one very simple but crucial demand, that America must put its own citizens first," he declared, "because only then can we truly make America great again."
(In the text distributed by the White House, Trump's familiar four-word campaign theme appeared in all caps.)
The hourlong speech was in many ways a conventional presidential address, with a laundry list of proposals, allusions to American history and tributes to American heroes. That's notable in part because so much about Trump's presidency has been unconventional — and because many of his populist, nationalist prescriptions that defy Republican orthodoxy are becoming part of the GOP mainstream.
"My job is not to represent the world," he said as he discussed the U.S. role around the globe. "My job is to represent the United States of America."
In the ornate House chamber Tuesday, Republican senators and representatives gave him repeated standing ovations, though only a handful had endorsed his candidacy before his nomination became inevitable. (Some of them didn't do so even then.)
In a final sign that his takeover of the GOP, once viewed as hostile, was complete: 84% of Republican-leaning voters in the Pew Research Center poll approved of the job Trump is doing in the White House, a level of support that nearly matches what Barack Obama received among Democrats at this point in his presidency, in 2009, and is a bit better than the backing Ronald Reagan was getting among Republicans in 1981.
"In the first 30 days it's hard to think about how he could have cemented his relationship with the conservative heart and soul of the party any better," says Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC. "I think it's indisputable that he is the political head of the Republican Party."
That said, strains and a spiderweb of fractures in the GOP already are apparent as Trump continues to face allegations about his campaign's ties to Russia and gets more enmeshed in the details of the proposals he had outlined only in broad strokes before. On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned that the president's budget plan to slash State Department funding, an idea floated just 24 hours earlier, probably couldn't pass.
And policymakers in both parties were roiled after TV anchors emerged from a luncheon with the president to report that a "senior administration official" told them Trump was open to negotiating a comprehensive immigration bill, language that typically indicates a path to legal status or even citizenship for undocumented workers.
There turned out to be no such conciliatory language in the president's public remarks about dealing with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States, though. Instead, Trump reiterated his pledge to build a wall along the southwestern border and introduced guests he had invited to sit in the gallery who had seen family members killed by illegal immigrants.
In the first 40 days of his tenure, Trump has demonstrated the power of executive action, ordering limits on new regulations and laying the groundwork for more aggressive deportation of illegal immigrants.
However, reaching his most consequential goals, including a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and an overhaul of the tax code, will require building congressional coalitions to pass legislation. Providing some details about what he wants to see in a big health care bill, he called on "all Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster."
Republicans applauded that line. Democrats didn't.
The tumultuous start to Trump's tenure that has been a textbook reminder of American system of checks and balances. A federal appeals court decision blocked the immigration order he had signed with fanfare; another is still being drafted. In the wake of noisy protests at town-hall meetings, congressional Republicans are struggling to devise a health care plan to replace Obamacare. His national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced out of the White House in a controversy about Russia's role in the election that is far from over.
Trump sought to pivot from all that in a speech he read almost verbatim from the teleprompter, a contrast with the freewheeling style he has displayed since he launched his long-shot presidential bid. He started with a mention of Black History Month and a denunciation of anti-Semitic violence, and he avoided his most provocative rhetoric against Muslims and his attacks on the news media.
With his victory in November, Trump made the Republican Party of Main Street and Wall Street also the party of working-class white voters who felt sidelined in a globalized economy. The GOP had long been the party of free trade; the new president denounces multilateral trade deals and already has pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has pursued a long crusade to get control of Social Security and Medicare costs, part of the traditional GOP focus on the deficit; the White House on Monday said the president would keep his campaign promise not to touch those programs.
"Donald J. Trump has expanded the base, there’s no two ways about it," says Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., the first member of Congress to endorse his campaign and still a booster. "The loss of manufacturing jobs, good jobs, going to Mexico and going to China have decimated upstate New York and certainly Western New York and it’s decimated Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. And those workers, the good middle-class families, have said enough is enough."
That, he says, is what put Donald J. Trump in the White House and standing before joint session of Congress.
How Trump voters feel now
From a Left-leaning survey researcher
One of my biggest lessons so far is how wrong the stereotypes are. For instance, if you live in Massachusetts or California or New York, you don’t need to drive to the Midwest to find a Trump voter. They are in your office, in your neighborhood, and in your places of worship. Some of them lied to pollsters and read Facebook posts from friends about how bigoted and evil — and yes, deplorable — they were. Many of them voted for Trump reluctantly, agonizing over how they could overlook his lies and attacks. Now, they no longer feel alone.
Take Sheila, a 49- year-old actuary from Eastern Massachusetts. She was always a Democrat, but her perspective changed over time. Her work at an insurance company required her to speak with customers who were claiming reimbursement for their injuries. “It seemed like every call I did was a person who wasn’t working, who was living off the system, “ she explained. “It was classic: people faking headaches and whiplash just to get another $5,000, and it made me cynical.” Sheila voted for Trump, despite being “horrified about some of the things he said,” in the hope that things would change. “The country has gone way too far to the left, and sometimes you have to take a sharp right to correct it.”
Sheila explained to me that she doesn’t talk about whom she voted for because she is worried about losing friends, but she is happy right now with Trump. She wonders whether anyone has noticed that our new President is trying to communicate clearly, working seven days a week, and doing everything he promised in record time. She loves his efforts to cut taxes, to try to make our country more secure, to limit lobbying by former politicos, and to put people in cabinet positions who have executive experience. “When I do admit I voted for Trump, people attack me,” she added.
Like Sheila, the Trump voters I connect with weekly are very hopeful, and many are downright exhilarated. Some voted for Trump because they wanted a strong and decisive leader; many hated the Clintons; some were torn and decided to go for change; and yes, some had lost their jobs to companies that outsourced them overseas.
At the moment, there is only one area in which the Trump voters I talked to are generally unhappy. It’s not the cabinet appointments or policy decisions, but rather the haphazardness with which work is getting done — especially the recent immigration ban, which most support. “I am not worried about executive orders, because Obama used them day in and day out also,’’ said Charles from Texas. “However, it just seems that things are so stupidly executed. I wonder who is in charge, and I am betting that some heads will roll shortly.”
And from Karen in Michigan, “ If Trump is a good businessman, he needs to use more of his business skill to make his organization work.” Or from Sherman in Kentucky, “It is so important to slow down immigration and to get our act together on how we vet refugees. I would rather have seen this implemented slowly and well.” Or from Karl in Montana, “As my grandma always said, ‘Haste makes waste.’ It pains me to see such a colossal screw-up as the immigration fiasco, when the original intent was well founded.” They feel this way despite Trump’s claim that the White House is a fine-tuned machine.
Ben Stein calls out the media
During an interview on CNN about President Donald Trump’s decision to not attend the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) dinner, writer, producer, and speechwriter Ben Stein said he is not surprised because the media treat Trump like a “punching bag day after day,” and CNN and the New York Times are “slamming him” daily, always “negative,” constantly searching for “a scandal.”
On the Feb. 25 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Brianna Keilar explained that Ronald Reagan was the last president to not attend one of the WHCA events – because he had been shot in an assassination attempt – and asked Stein about President Trump’s decision not to attend.
“I'm not surprised and I'm not disappointed,” said Stein. “I don't blame Mr. Trump one bit for doing it. I mean, he's a punching bag day after day after day in the media, especially what's called the mainstream media. And I don't blame him for not wanting to go and be a punching bag in person.”
When asked about Trump’s remarks that the media are the enemy of the people and they concoct “fake news,” Stein said, “Well, I wouldn't say that all of the media is the enemy of the people. Look, every day you pick up The New York Times, every day they're slamming, slamming, slamming him.”
“I'm a great fan of CNN, I watch it quite faithfully,” he continued. “Every day CNN is slamming him, slamming him, slamming him. Every day, they're looking for a scandal.”
“They're just turning the woods upside down looking for a scandal,” said Stein. “They're hoping, I think, to do to him what they did to Nixon a long time ago. And, you know, still haven't found any real scandals.”
“And with all due respect, I don't blame him for being furious at them,” said Stein. “And I think he's got a lot of company.
Stein further said, “I'm out there giving speeches all around the country all the time, people -- an awful lot of people are not great fans of the media, and they see the media as an unelected aristocracy, an effete corps of impudent snobs, as Vice President Agnew called them a long time ago, who are dumping all over the mainstream of America. And I think Mr. Trump has a lot of company.”
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in). GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.
Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)