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To the Moon Township and Back

By now we should be inured to President Donald Trump’s unique brand of political rhetoric, but we can’t quite a shake a certain disquieting feeling about it. Even in a weekend chock full of serious stories, Trump’s speech at Moon Township, Pennsylvania, on Saturday was worrisome.
During a 75-minute stream-of-consciousness improvisation, Trump urged that America adopt the Chinese dictatorship’s draconian drug policies, called the National Broadcasting Company’s Chuck Todd a “sleeping son of a bitch” and griped that he hadn’t rewarded for his past hit reality show on the network with more favorable coverage, then once again predicted that all the “fake news” media would eventually help him win reelection for fear that people will stop watching the news if Trump isn’t on it. He defended his crazy steel tariffs and predicted a quick and decisive victory in the coming trade wars, described a congressional Democratic critic as a “very low-IQ person,” told a boastful and obviously untrue lie about winning the majority of the women’s vote in the past election, and blamed every American president back to Ronald Reagan for all his problems.
He also spent five minutes or so extolling the virtues of Rick Saccone, the Republican nominee in a special House of Representatives election to be held on Tuesday, which was the ostensible reason for the speech. The district has long been reliably Republican, and Trump won it easily, but all the polls are showing a tight race. They’re having a special election because the Republican who won office on a family values platform was forced to resign after it came out that he’d urged his mistress to get an abortion during a pregnancy scare, Republicans have been underperforming all the special elections since Trump’s electoral victory, and even lost an Alabama seat, so it’s a race the GOP can ill-afford to lose.
Trump’s crazy steel tariffs play well in the vicinity of Moon Township, where the once dominant steel industry has been decimated by competition from lower-wage and higher-tech factories, but naturally the Democratic nominee is just as enthusiastic about it as the Republican, and has the endorsement of the last remaining steelmaking unions, and so for that’s proving a wash. The Republican candidate is also by all accounts something of a bore, which is an unpardonable political sin in the age of Trump, and his Democratic opponent, Conor Lamb, is a former Marine with centrists positions and no apparent character defects, and even Trump noted in his rambling endorsement for Saccone that Lamb’s considered a rather handsome fellow.
Trump boasted that he’s better looking, which got a big laugh, and he dubbed the Democrat “Lamb the Sham,” which also got a big laugh, and then he mentioned the name of Democratic minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, which set off an even louder round of boos. Lamb has stressed throughout the campaign that he would not vote for Pelosi as the House Democrats’ leader, so that might also prove a wash, but it went over big at the rally. Trump was less effusive in his praise of Saccone, and when he tried he trailed off into a mock-voice impression of some boring “presidential” type of president endorsing some boring House candidate. At least he didn’t openly say he might have endorsed the wrong guy in the Republican primary, as he did when he went to rally support for that credibly accused child molester of a Republican nominee who wound up losing that once-safe Alabama Senate seat, but Saccone could have done better.
The crowd loved it, of course, laughing at all the familiar laugh lines and booing any mention of the familiar villains, but even in the Rust Belt regions of Pennsylvania the act seems to be wearing thin. To us it looks and sounds like the ramblings of a mean-spirited and insecure and foul-mouthed fellow who’s in far above his ill-coiffed head, and we worry that in all sorts of districts and the foreign bureaus in such places as London and Berlin and Beijing and Pyongyang many people have reached the same conclusion.

— Bud Norman

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About That Poll

Everything seems to be spinning out of control, from foreign affairs to the domestic economy to those ever more scandalous scandals, but everyone on the right has been taking some time out to enjoy that Wall Street Journal-National Broadcasting Company poll that shows that President Barack Obama is at last taking some of the blame for it all. The poll shows widespread disapproval of the president’s handling of the economy and especially of his foreign policies, with an especially precipitous drop in his popularity among Hispanics, and it’s bad enough that such a reliable apologist as NBC’s Chuck Todd has declared that “Essentially the public is declaring that (Obama’s) presidency is over.”
Obama’s presidency won’t actually be over for another two and half years, alas, but there is some consolation in reading that so many Americans have belatedly concluded that it should be done. The poll bodes well for the Republicans’ chances in the mid-term elections, which traditionally reflect the popularity of the sitting president, and that offers a chance a to at least limit some of the damage over the last two years of the era of hope and change. Deeper in the poll there are also contains some numbers on presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that provide hope for the presidential election in ’16. and the possibility that some of the damage can be undone. We can’t begrudge anyone the faint glimmer of optimism that the poll provides, but it remains to be seen if the Republicans will once again squander its possibilities.
Much of the public’s dissatisfaction is with the administration’s foreign policy, which will likely also be a problem for the former Secretary of State who is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the Republicans will find it difficult to offer a popular alternative. The last Republican administration’s forceful response to Islamism’s war against America remains unpopular, even if the public is just as discontented with the results of both Obama’s apologetic and appeasing repudiation of that approach and his bomb-first-and-ask-questions-later adventures in Libya and Pakistan and elsewhere, and the next Republican nominee will have to find an appealing middle ground that eschews long commitments of troops without letting the international order slide into chaos. The presumptive Democratic nominee and her as-yet-unknown challengers will be trying to strike the same balance, and while they won’t be able to promise deterrence through a stronger and better-funded military they will have a helpful press explaining that all of the world’s problems are still the fault of the last the Republican administration. Events are proceeding at such a pace that is impossible to predict the challenges that will be debated in the next but election, but it is safe to say they’re headed in a direction that will make the debate lively and difficult for both sides.
Things are going so badly from Ukraine to the Middle East to the South China Sea that foreign policy will play a larger-than-usual role in the next elections, but the pocketbook issues will as always be important. This should also play to the Republicans’ benefit, especially when Obamacare has been fully implemented and the consequences of all those foreign policy mistakes become apparent at the gas pump, but the Republicans’ penchant for political ineptitude could also negate that advantage. The Democrats have already indicated that they’ll run on the argument that the problem isn’t the impoverishment of the middle class that their policies have caused but rather the wealth of a few people that Republican policies have allowed, and human nature being prone to envy it will be a popular line. The presumptive Democratic nominee has lately encountered some unaccustomed bad press because she’s one of those wealthy people her party wants the public to resent, but the Democrats can always come up with another nominee who’s been getting by on a few hundred thousand dollars a years from government or academia, or come up with some more satisfactory explanation for why they’re running a woman who got filthy rich on writing books and giving speeches for the corporate world.
That precipitous drop in the president’s popularity with Hispanics is also encouraging, especially if it reflects a realization that his kind-hearted Hispanic-kids-get-in-free policy has created a humanitarian crisis for tens of thousands of Hispanic children, but the Republicans will still have to make a convincing case that their more hard-headed approach will have less heartbreaking consequences. The growing Hispanic population will remain a political challenge for the Republicans, and the demographic trends that are providing more unmarried women and children of unmarried couples bring challenges that will be hard to overcome with just a strong case for better policies.
Still, those poll numbers provide a grumpy right-winger will some small measure of satisfaction. These days, we’ll take whatever ¬†we can get.

— Bud Norman