President Trump did a lot of good for himself tonight. For at least this evening, he managed to project an image opposed to the (justified) caricature of him as arrogant, boorish, poorly-informed, needlessly divisive, erratic and unstable. He certainly didn’t come across as a 25th Amendment case, a buffoon, or a guy who can’t be trusted to be Commander in Chief. The best aspects were his low-key voice and calm demeanor on the one hand and his many shout-outs to the American heroes he brought along to put a human face on talking points such as the ongoing war with ISIS and the dangers of illegal-immigrant gangs. Most of the points he made were reasonable, normal, center-right policy ideas, and Democratic efforts to paint them as extreme will come across as petty and unconvincing. Trump’s references to illegal immigrants will both drive Democrats crazy and score points with a lot of centrist voters in the purple-to-red parts of the country.
Betting on Trump to successfully pivot to a more polished and presidential style has been a sucker’s bet for the entire first year of his presidency. But he has been much less abrasive on Twitter the last week or two, with a few questionable exceptions. Notably, he failed to take the bait after Hillary Clinton and others went after him in the Grammys broadcast on Sunday. It may be that someone has impressed on him that if the GOP loses the House in November, that will be the effective end of his ability to pass any legislation and more or less the end of his presidency, although he could still shape the judiciary to his advantage. If he could change the subject from his personality (and the Russia business, which I remain convinced would fade away if he would just let it) to how well the economy is doing, he could retain the House and even pick up a Senate seat or two. All he really has to do in order to make that happen is to be as dull and normal as he was tonight.
Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen either. But stranger things have happened.