President Trump is currently enjoying some of the highest approval ratings of his presidency, if not his best ever. The Real Clear Politics polls average has him at 44 percent approval and two of the most recent polls show him at 47 and 48 percent. In looking at these numbers, it’s hard not to focus on the fact that, for Trump, the past few weeks have been, well, pretty normal.
In June he had a very normal state visit to England with no real gaffes. For the Fourth of July he gave a speech that liberals and progressives expected to be pure and ugly politics, but wound up being, again, pretty normal. His reactions to criticisms such as a new allegation of sexual assault were pretty mellow by his standards, and his brief walk into North Korea came off as a good bit of diplomacy, despite handwringing among North Korea hawks.
Even before he took office, Trump promised Americans that he could be more presidential, less impulsive and crude. For most of his administration, such a shift was difficult to detect. Trump was Trump: a week, or even two, of keeping his head down always exploded in a firework of unexpected and disconcerting tweets. But that has slowed down, by a lot.
Although some Republicans who lost purple districts in the 2018 midterm might disagree, there wasn’t a lot of reason for Trump not to pivot from his approach in the first two years of his presidency. He kept a laundry list of promises to his base and enough fire and brimstone to keep them committed to him as the guy who fights. But as we edge closer to the 2020 election, could a kinder, gentler Trump be in the offing as the second act that every two-term president needs?
There are several reasons this could be an effective approach, if he can actually hold to it. The first is that the Democrats have discovered their own brand of crazy that is already making Trump look fairly sane. Basically, they’re coming off as suggesting every Democrat older than 60 is a racist and the government has to take over the entire economy to stave off doom in 12 years. Don’t believe me that this is really about the economy? Listen Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff.
AOC's chief of staff has this to say on the Green New Deal: “Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?” Chakrabarti continued. “Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” https://t.co/nkN4GWSZZ5
— Rick Klein (@rickklein) July 11, 2019
A Donald Trump who can actually be calm and measured — I mean, obviously in comparison to his usually slash and burn style — could be very dangerous. The recent polling results show this. Trump has spent four years on a shock and awe campaign. Is it time for a charm surge? There is a certain air of “The Democrats are crazy, I’m the sane one,” in his recent approach. And is he wrong?
The most impressive thing that any person can do is the thing nobody thinks he is capable of. It is easy in life to play the part that society, or even, as Shakespeare puts it, the world foists upon you, especially if it comes with prizes. But to eschew that, to reinvent yourself as the thing that maybe even you didn’t know you could be, is powerful stuff. And Trump is on the cusp of it.
Does this mean that next week Trump might break the spell and return to his usual ways? Of course. But consider this. Maybe he has changed expectations so severely that he doesn’t have to change very much to look like a very changed man. What if his destruction of norms has actually led to more politicians saying what they really mean? The quiet parts out loud? This makes him the harbinger of the new normal.
I don’t think we are far from that. And I see a President Trump who is settling into a new identity, one that is more normal than any of us could have expected from him. Who knows if he can pull it off, or if he even wants to. But it is very well worth considering.
As the tone moves back towards normalcy, his extraordinary conservative victories shine through. Without the Never Trump nagging overtone, the right have essentially no arguments against him.
This may all be wishful thinking from a reformed Never Trumper. But the numbers don’t lie. With a good economy, a world in relative balance, and approval numbers on the rise, the president should consider what he has wrought in these mellow couple of weeks. It might be worth repeating.