The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

A Groundhog Day Miracle: Trump’s Stellar State of the Union Numbers

Happy Groundhog Day! Or, as New York mayor De Blasio calls today, DAWN OF VENGEANCE. Allegedly he is skipping today’s ritual murder festivities, but we know that after-hours, when everyone has gone home, De Blasio will stalk the night, striking fear in the heart of every groundhog.

Look What Dr. Jekyll Can Do When Mr. Hyde Takes the Night Off!

Yes, Trump critics and skeptics are much less likely to want to sit through watching the State of the Union, so the audience is somewhat self-selecting. But the public assessment of Trump’s Tuesday night address is gangbusters:

A combined 62 percent of speech-watchers called Trump’s performance “excellent” or “good,” with 17 percent saying Trump did only a fair job, and another 20 percent calling the speech “poor.”

The sample consists of Americans aged 18 or older who said they watched the speech, either live or after it happened. It does not include people who said they watched or listened to news reports about the speech, or who didn’t see or hear anything about the speech at all.

One reason Trump’s numbers were so strong: The party-ID breakdown of the sample of speech-watchers was significantly more Republican than the overall electorate — 43 percent of poll respondents said they are Republicans, 29 percent are Democrats and 28 percent are independents.

When a president whose approval rating is in the low 40s steps out into the spotlight and delivers an address that leaves 62 percent applauding, we should sit up and take notice. He doesn’t have to be this unpopular. He’s got a good speechwriting team, he delivers his remarks well, and he’s got a compelling story to tell and a strong argument to make. I’d like to think that someone close to the president could remind him of the popularity of Disciplined, Policy-Focused Trump, and how much more political leverage his Dr. Jekyll persona has compared to his Mr. Hyde one.

Why Democrats Won’t Seriously Consider Trump’s Immigration Deal Offer

I realize it’s probably Memo Day, but let’s look ahead to where the immigration debate will be in the coming weeks. Funding for the government runs out on February 8; lawmakers are trying to put together another funding extension bill to keep things going through March 23.

In the New York Times, Thomas Edsall angers readers by declaring, “Trump has Democrats right where he wants them.”

The Trump proposal — which a lot of immigration restrictionists such as Mark Krikorian don’t like — offers a path to citizenship not just to the 690,000 registered Dreamers, but to 1.8 million who did not register for the program but are still eligible. That is a huge priority for the Democratic party.

In exchange, Trump wants $25 billion for the border wall, to shift priorities from family reunification to a skills-based merit system and limit family reunification to spouses and minor children, and to end the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. Needless to say, to most Democrats, those changes represent three enormous concessions to get that one huge priority enacted. Univision anchor Jorge Ramos spells out the perspective of many on the left quite explicitly: “Yes, the fight starts with the Dreamers but the goal is to legalize their parents, their siblings and the majority of the 11M undocumented immigrants. This is the REAL immigration reform (not what Trump and the GOP are proposing).” In short, citizenship for all 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States is the ultimate goal, and anything short of that does not meet their criteria of “real immigration reform.”

Daniel Drezner writes that “liberals have excellent reasons to reject any bargain with [Trump immigration-policy adviser Stephen] Miller on both policy and principled grounds.”

If Democrats want to reject the Trump proposal, that’s their right. But rejecting Trump’s offer, and/or not making a serious counter-offer, means that in the meantime, some of the Dreamers will get deported, as well as other illegal immigrants.

Among those four policies — 1.6 million Dreamers, no border wall, extended-family reunification status quo, the Diversity Immigrant Visa program status quo — Democrats have to prioritize. If they refuse to make a deal, they get the last three, but they don’t get the first one.

Democrats may believe they’ll have more leverage in ten months or so after the midterm elections. In other words, Democrats believe that time is on their side.

But no matter how the midterm elections shake out, Trump controls immigration enforcement for the next three years. Attempted border crossings are down, and arrests and deportations are up. Trump believes that time is on his side.

Yes, the pro-amnesty portion of the electorate will be enraged at the Trump administration. But the pro-amnesty portion of the electorate was enraged at Donald Trump on Election Day 2016, too. The pro-amnesty portion of the electorate might get irked with Democrats as DACA deportations continue. And the pro-amnesty portion of the electorate might get louder and sound more like Ramos, allowing Republicans to turn the 2018 midterms into a national referendum on amnesty. That would make life much more difficult for all of those red-state Senate Democrats up for reelection and all of those Democrats hoping to win swing House districts.

If Democrats were wiser, they might pocket the 1.6 million Dreamers, throw some money for the wall (knowing it will take forever to build and that they can run ads against Trump for breaking his promise to have Mexico pay for the wall), agree to some sort of cap on extended family reunification, and, say, cut the Diversity Immigrant Visa program by some percentage. Then they can run on “we saved the Dreamers, now let’s save the American dream” in 2018. Any concessions they make now can be reversed when there’s a Democratic president and Congress, and they can tell their voters that with enough effort, that can happen in January 2021.

But I’m not sure that rank-and-file grassroots Democrats really accept that they lost the election, and the minority party doesn’t have that much leverage in situations like this. Yes, Chuck Schumer could try to shut down the government again, but that’s punishing a Democratic constituency that votes (federal workers) for a Democratic constituency that legally cannot vote (Dreamers and other illegal immigrants). Trump and the Republicans would love to campaign on the theme, “the Democrats care more about illegal immigrants than they care about you.”

Democrats are really convinced the midterm electorate is going to empower them come January 2019 . . . as convinced as they were that Hillary Clinton would be taking the oath of office on January 20, 2017. We will see.

The Inadvertently Libertarian Trump Administration

On the home page today, I have one last point on the Koch network winter meeting: Don’t let the “the Kochs are jumping on the Trump train” headlines fool you. There’s still a giant personal and philosophical gap between the Koch brothers and the president. It’s just that the policy results of the administration and this Republican Congress have been a lot of what the Kochs like and not so much of what they don’t like, so they’re willing to put in a lot of effort to keep things that way.

ADDENDA: Our Andy McCarthy on the Mark Corallo–Hope Hicks meeting:

Like so much of what we’ve seen in the collusion/obstruction investigations, this episode makes one wince. The president and his subordinates decided to try to mislead experienced reporters. They did so after apparently deliberating for hours over what to say, under circumstances in which (a) it was nigh certain that the truth would come out and (b) Trump did not consult with his own lawyers before the statement was issued. It is an embarrassing display of poor character and ineptitude. Congress, however, has yet to make criminal stupidity a crime.

Heading into the weekend, I’d love to believe that the Philadelphia Eagles can provide us with a Rocky-esque underdog story and spare us another offseason of gloating New England Patriots fans. Alas, I do not foresee it happening. Last Super Bowl I rooted for the Patriots and you saw what happened; by halftime, I was convinced I had genuinely developed power over time and space and could tank anyone just by rooting for them. Just how good are Belichick and company? Good enough to overcome that!

Hopefully the commercials will be good.


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