The left faces a far tougher task confronting President Trump than it did with candidate Trump. Following Trump’s address to Congress on February 28, that appears to be the case. This poses a big problem for its scorched-earth opposition strategy.
One month, one week, and one day after taking office, Donald Trump delivered his first “Joint Address” — he may also have delivered his presidency.
The speech was unquestionably a good text. Focused on securing America first, it marched through the points that carried him to victory last November. But it went beyond where Trump had already been, to places many felt he had not gone before — bipartisan, unifying, and optimistic.
However, the lines were not as memorable as the delivery. It was Donald Trump himself who carried the night and the speech to the level all objective observers are still acknowledging. Trump stayed on text, ignored the sometimes low theatrics below him, and focused on a powerful array of guests in the balcony above.
In sum, Trump was unquestionably presidential when many were questioning whether he could be.
None doubted Trump’s ability to be presidential more than America’s left. The left’s strategy has been very clear for some time: Copy the Tea Party’s success.
The left saw the Tea Party as a visceral, incoherent, and complete opposition to Obama. Yet over six years it also built success on success.
While Obama was winning two terms with popular vote majorities, the left witnessed the Tea Party capture the Republican Party, then the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and finally the White House in 2016.
The lesson the left took from the Tea Party is that nonstop, uncompromising opposition works. In its view, if such an opposition espousing benighted policies and representing a minority of America could succeed, how much more effective could a left-wing insurgence be?
Since November, the left has been hell-bent to find out. Its first goal, with establishmentarian Hillary Clinton gone, is to build on Bernie Sanders’s 2016 success and capture the Democratic Party. Its means of doing so has been by setting a standard for orthodoxy: unrelenting opposition to Trump.
Through such opposition, these players intend to shape the Democratic Party into their own image and define Trump into their caricature of him. They will then inflict a shattering 2018 midterm defeat on him — as Republicans did on Obama eight years earlier. Finally, they will ride their momentum to nominate one of their own and wreck a divided Republican Party in 2020.
To the left this does not seem far-fetched. If the Tea Party could do it to Obama, how much more possible is it for the left to do it to Trump who, in its mind, won by default — and only with a decided minority of the popular vote?
However, the left’s strategy is premised on Donald Trump remaining Candidate Trump and not growing in office. From November through his first month in office, this seemed plausible. Trump’s approval ratings remained low, especially for a new president.
Trump’s speech gave him a needed lift. Simultaneously, pressures are bearing down on the left. Already there were signs its all-out opposition was losing popular support.
According to Rasmussen polling (2/26-27, of 1,000 Likely Voters, +/-3%), just 29% thought it better for the country if Democrats opposed Trump in every way possible, while 63% thought it was better for the nation if Democrats tried to work with Trump. Interestingly, the numbers were unchanged when respondents were asked about such a strategy’s impact on the Democratic Party — only 29% said it benefited Democrats, while 63% said it hurt them.
Even among Democrats support is waning for all-out opposition. Just after the election, Rasmussen found 64% believed this was the best course, versus 32% who believed their party should work with Trump. Now those believing their party should oppose Trump as much as possible has fallen to just 44%, while 45% say it’s better for their party to work with Trump.
Most significantly, Trump’s speech threatens the left’s fundamental assumption he could not be presidential. It did so because it also contradicted so many assumptions about Trump.
The speech did not simply offer the chance that America could see him differently. It went deeper than that. It offered the possibility that Trump could actually be different. And it gave an indication how formidable a disciplined presidential Trump could be.
It was just one speech, but it was definitely a setback for the left. Yet even coupled with falling public support for all-out Trump opposition, this does not mean the left’s retreat. Generals do not change war strategies so easily. But while the left may not yet be ready to rethink its scorched-earth strategy, it certainly needs to begin rethinking Trump.
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