Right now, Donald Trump is in the strongest political position since the initial months of his presidency.
He’s not in robust shape — he’s ticked up into the mid 40s — but the slow upward trend in polls has been evident since March.
Too much shouldn’t be read into the numbers, except for the basic conclusion that Trump hasn’t destroyed himself and isn’t going away. Trump may not even harm the interests of Republicans in the midterms any more than any other sitting president whose party holds Congress.
After 18 months of Trump, the GOP is possibly in position to retain control of both houses. Despite the constant low-level sense of crisis, despite the tweets, despite the Russia investigation, despite the Stormy Daniels scandal, despite the extravagant message indiscipline.
A year or six months ago, it was possible to see Trump as Samson pulling down the temple on top of himself and his party in an epic feat of destruction. It hasn’t happened. Of course, he’s capable of committing a monumental blunder at any time. But he has not yet lived down to the assumption of so many of his critics that he would make it easy for them as the instrument of his own rapid undoing.
The inevitable anti-Trump blowout forecast for November looks less inevitable. Why the improvement in Trump’s fortunes and that of his party?
First, Republicans finally managed to pass major legislation last year in the form of the tax bill, which gave them a plausible political claim on an economy that had already been growing. The unemployment rate is now at 3.8 percent, the lowest since April 2000. Trump is not so abnormal that his presidency isn’t subject to the updraft of a buoyant economy.
Finally, Trump seems a little less exotic. His zaniness isn’t as strange or threatening as it seemed at the outset.
Second, the Republican agenda has shifted this year from Paul Ryan territory to Trump territory, i.e., from health care, taxes, and spending to immigration, trade, and national security. Sadly, a trade war with Micronesia would almost certainly be more popular than trying to repeal Obamacare.
Finally, Trump seems a little less exotic. As Abraham Lincoln said, there’s nothing like getting used to it. His zaniness isn’t as strange or threatening as it seemed at the outset. Trump’s tweets have gone from unprecedented use and abuse of the bully pulpit to something like the wallpaper of our national political debate.
The most plausible (although always ridiculously exaggerated) case that a madman Trump would blow up the world was North Korea. The mutual threats have now given way to what will be the most highly anticipated and watched diplomatic summit since the end of the Cold War, one that is likely to produce a superficial success that will poll very well domestically.
If Republicans manage to hold the House (still a very dicey proposition) and pick up Senate seats (probably more likely than not), 2018 will be to Trump what 1998 was to Bill Clinton — an unexpected midterm victory in which remarkably good conditions in the country trumped the politics of scandal.
The nation’s most prominent Democratic spokesman the past few months has been a slick, overly aggressive California trial lawyer obsessed with the Stormy Daniels scandal in all its permutations — Michael Avenatti.
The attorney for the porn star is the perfect avatar for the #resistance. He represents the Left’s fantasy that it can humiliate Trump, lock up his friends, get them to flip on him, and end his presidency by, say, mid 2019.
This, absent a hellacious smoking gun, is almost certainly a dead end. Trump will have to be beaten in the normal course of politics, which means Democrats need to take him seriously, learn from him, and attack him purposely and intelligently. Being perpetually appalled and assuming that he’ll do his opponents’ work for them is wishfulness rather than strategy.
But this fantasy is reinforced in the media every day. The press is obsessed with everything related to Trump — except his modest recovery.