Presidents holding the peace and prosperity cards usually have a winning hand. Last week, President Trump got to play both in less than 24 hours. In today’s polarized electorate, these are the aces that can win America’s unaligned middle in 2020 — and with it, the president’s reelection.
Last Thursday night, President Trump surprised everyone by agreeing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Since his presidency began, Trump has unrelentingly ratcheted up the pressure on that country. The revelation that North Korea had asked for talks and agreed to stop its nuclear buildup during them made his pressure appear to have paid off.
The announcement reverberated like Nixon’s decision to go to China. Its whipsaw effect took Trump from his portrayed role of belligerent to that of peacemaker.
Half a day later on Friday morning, the headline-grabbing February job report appeared. It contained top-to-bottom good news: over 300,000 new jobs, continued low unemployment, and significant real wage growth. While the media focus had been on Wall Street volatility, Main Street had done very well indeed.
The place where establishment media’s coverage had been and the places Trump instead appeared is notable. The distinction only serves to magnify the latter.
To fully understand it, imagine what coverage would have been like if both events had happened under Trump’s predecessor. Recall Obama won a Nobel Peace prize for essentially showing up in Washington. Had he had the economy moving at its current clip, he probably would have gotten the Nobel Prize for economics to boot.
Establishment media’s coverage could not differ more starkly. Obama was the president who could do no wrong; Trump is the president who can do no right.
Certainly this presentation difference has contributed to perception difference too. Trump has unquestionably paid a price in current polls for it. However, there is also a potential unintended benefit that this coverage gives him.
By diminishing Trump’s abilities to the point of parody, establishment media — and his opponents in general — unintentionally magnify his accomplishments.
There are still questions aplenty in both his North Korean meeting and today’s economy. Yet by fawning over North Korea at the Olympics — when it served to embarrass the Trump administration — establishment media can hardly critically question the president’s decision to meet. By having characterized Obama’s economy of mediocrity as “the new normal,” establishment media can hardly condemn today’s marked improvement.
It is unclear where either story will be in a couple of months, let alone a couple of years. However, establishment media, by focusing on images rather issues, has lost the ability to broadly deliver the subtlety of nuisance. Having made the conversation about images, it is equally susceptible when Trump captures them.
Last week he did just that in two fundamental areas. They showed Trump increasingly close to holding the aces of American politics. And he is aided in no small measure by his opposition dealing those cards to him.
Peace and prosperity are the basics of presidential politics. For unaligned voters, those without a strong opinion of Trump, these are the fundamentals which have historically, and still do, move their votes.
With so polarized an electorate, there are few things which can move many away from their pole. Those who oppose Trump will oppose him, and those who support will support him — regardless. However, the intransigence of both sides puts the pivotal power in the middle: Those still movable, unaligned voters.
Perhaps the upcoming midterms will be decided by the extremes. It has happened in the past: The middle stays home and a comparatively smaller, more agitated electorate exerts disproportionate influence in a non-presidential year election. But in a presidential election, the fuller electorate returns. The middle goes to the polls.
In these presidential elections, the extremes do not hold the same sway. It is the middle that decides the outcome. And what decides the middle are the bread-and-butter issues that Trump — unintentionally aided by his opponents — may have to play like trump cards.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987-2000.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.