How is President Trump benefiting from the debate over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem?
Most pundits are arguing about whether or not Trump's reactions to the protests are in line with the public. Simply put, the vast majority of Americans agree that kneeling during the national anthem, while allowed by the First Amendment, is not a respectful way to protest. According to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, 53 percent think kneeling during the anthem is inappropriate.
The majority may not agree with Trump's insult of the players and their mothers last Friday, and 57 percent do not think the players should be fired, as Trump has advocated. But 58 percent agree with Trump that the NFL should have a rule requiring standing. So, most seem to agree with his overall stance and may even sympathize with his frustration.
But, so what?
No one is answering how this will help Trump pass tax reform, infrastructure programs, and immigration reform. In fact, we already know it didn't help him pass the Obamacare repeal bill.
Trump's tactical error isn't dissimilar for the kneeling NFL players: when people are distracted away from your main cause, your cause isn't advanced.
Few Americans even remember why the kneelers are protesting, because the conversation has been dominated by their tactics rather than their argument. Why haven't there been more discussion about criminal justice reform and more accountability in policing? After all, isn't that the mission of these protests?
Now the protesters' movement has been consumed by, at worst, anti-Trumpism, or at best, a show of support for the right to protest. Neither of those was the mission.
Similarly, due to Trump's statements and tweets, few are focusing on Trump's mission to pass his agenda. The president doesn't govern culture, although no one would deny the president's own rights to free speech. He is allowed to speak on this, but he is distracting from his own purpose in being elected. He is also arguably adding support to these protests by further politicizing them. The media and Capitol Hill have been consumed by talking about the NFL. Meanwhile, none of the major Trump initiatives seem to be advancing.
The last-ditch effort to pass Graham-Cassidy is the perfect illustration. Maybe Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Joe Manchin, D-W.V., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., were never going to be convinced to support the bill. Maybe. But, can anyone argue that Trump's fight with the NFL helped convince those five to support the bill?
Instead of using airtime to pressure those five into repealing and replacing Obamacare, Trump (and therefore the media even more so) were focused on the NFL. It's a massive missed opportunity.
Trump's loyal supporters argue that this fight with the NFL has helped Trump by aligning him with a popular issue. Even if you concede that his stance is the popular one, is it really going to change the minds of the 53 percent of Americans who disapprove of the president's performance? Not likely.
Is it likely that Trump's attacks on the NFL will build him enough support to pass any of his agenda items? Definitely not. Loyal Trump supporters keep defending every time Trump gets distracted from his agenda, but at some point, Trump supporters will have to care enough about Trump to want him to get big campaign promises done.
Ron Meyer (@Ron4VA) is a Washington Examiner columnist and the editor of Red Alert Politics (a sister publication of the Washington Examiner). He's also a supervisor of Loudoun County, Va. (R-Broad Run).