US President has a fresh narrative to take on the campaign trail a month before critical midterm elections that will determine control of Congress
Hundreds march in a protest, organized by Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, through downtown Seattle on Thursday.
Washington, D.C.: He promised so much success that everyone would be tired of all the winning. But after 20 months that proved more arduous than President Donald Trump once imagined, this may be the best week of his presidency so far.
The all-but-assured confirmation of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will cap a week that also saw the president seal an ambitious and elusive new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, one of his top campaign promises. And the latest jobs report out on Friday put unemployment at its lowest since 1969.
None of this necessarily changes the fundamentals of an often-chaotic presidency that has defied norms and struggled with scandal, but it gives Trump a fresh narrative to take on the campaign trail just a month before critical midterm elections that will determine control of Congress. With the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, turning quiet during campaign season, Trump has an opportunity to redirect the conversation onto more favourable territory.
“From his standpoint, it’s been a good week after many bad ones,” said David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “For a self-proclaimed perpetual ‘winner,’ he will have had some big wins to tout. The jobs figure, other than wages, and the after-NAFTA agreement are positive.”
Still, in Trump’s scorched-earth presidency, even victories come at a cost. The relationship with Canada was deeply scarred by his brutal negotiating tactics, while America has been ripped apart by the battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination, fraught as it was with gender politics that Trump seemed eager to encourage and anger on the left and the right.
Until recent days, he proved more effective at blowing up agreements than reaching new ones. He pulled out of an Asian-Pacific trade pact, a global accord on climate change and a nuclear deal with Iran, but he has made no progress in negotiating replacements, as he suggested he would. His most significant legislative achievement was last year’s tax-cutting package, which was forged in large part by Republican congressional leaders who had their own reasons for pushing it through.
The past couple weeks, however, saw Trump seal a revised trade agreement with South Korea and replace the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which not long ago seemed as if it might be beyond his reach.
The continuing fall in unemployment to 3.7 per cent was built on the recovery he inherited from Obama — something he refuses to acknowledge — but the booming economy has become one of his strongest political assets. And with Kavanaugh nearing confirmation Saturday, he showed he could push through an important nomination that many predicted was likely to fail after allegations of sexual misconduct.
“It’s a wonderful week. We’re thrilled,” Kellyanne Conway, his counsellor, said in an interview. “It shows that his perseverance and his tenacity and his adherence to campaign promises and principles are paying dividends.”
Whether the string of success for Trump will translate into support on the campaign trail could be the defining test of the next few weeks. Trump’s own approval ratings remain mired at just over 40 per cent in most polls, a historically low level for a president that usually signals losses for his party this close to an election.
“Independents especially are tired of the chaos and the uncertainty,” said Patti Solis Doyle, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager in 2008. “Yes, the economy is good; yes, Trump got two conservative judges on the court; and, yes, he is doing what he promised on the campaign trail” in terms of trade, tax cuts and tougher immigration enforcement. “But at what cost?” she asked. “Tariff wars, separating children from their mothers, huge deficit. I can go on and on.”
Trump plans to take his case on the road with a frenetic burst of campaigning in the weeks to come. He heads to Kansas on Saturday and will be on the road six of the next eight days, mainly for boisterous arena rallies where he rouses his conservative base with red-meat speeches.
Midterm elections are about turnout, and Democrats have been more energised for months, intent on stripping Trump of his party’s control of the House and possibly the Senate. While conservatives had grown more animated over the battle for Kavanaugh, once he is confirmed, Democrats may be more motivated to vote out of anger at the outcome, especially women who are upset that allegations of sexual assault were disregarded.
And it is not at all clear that when it comes to promoting his strongest political points, Trump can stay on message. Even this week, as he highlighted the new trade agreement, which he is calling the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, he drifted off to other subjects, as he is wont to do.
One truism of the Trump presidency has been how quickly the storyline changes from week to week, or day to day. New tales of palace intrigue or flare-ups of international tension or revelations stemming from various investigations could easily swamp a message of progress by the Nov. 6 election.
As Axelrod said, it is not clear “how any of this will factor in a month from now, which is an eternity in the Age of Trump.”