President Trump returned to form Thursday morning, taking to Twitter to brag about his ratings and unleash on the Democrats. Hours later, teleprompter Trump was back, delivering televised remarks to a gathering of congressional Republicans.
The comparison warrants highlighting as the midterm elections draw nearer.
“I've been saying for months that the House is done for Republicans because of Trump's behavior,” a Republican operative told the Washington Examiner, requesting anonymity so as not to run afoul of the White House. “I am willing to moderate that prediction if he starts acting like the SOTU president and not a reality TV star dying for attention.”
Trump on Twitter or at campaign rallies can be abrasive, polarizing, and off-putting. This image of the president predominated in the first year of his administration and bears responsibility for his low job approval ratings and the 2018 headwinds that threaten to sink GOP majorities in Congress.
“Democrats are doing nothing about DACA. They Resist, Blame, Complain and Obstruct - and do nothing. Start pushing Nancy Pelosi and the Dems to work out a DACA fix, NOW!” Trump tweeted Thursday.
“45.6 million people watched, the highest number in history. @FoxNews beat every other Network, for the first time ever, with 11.7 million people tuning in,” Trump added in a subsequent tweet, regarding the State of the Union, although statistics showed that this was not a record number of viewers for such a speech.
Teleprompter Trump — often agreeable, charming, and unifying — earned a 75 percent approval for his State of the Union address in a CBS News poll. The days immediately prior saw an uptick in Trump’s job approval and Republicans’ 2018 prospects, possibly owing to Trump’s general absence from Twitter during the same period.
"Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve," Trump said Tuesday evening, in one of many well-received lines from his State of the Union.
Thursday afternoon, in a speech to House and Senate Republicans gathered for a policy retreat in West Virginia, Trump had a few off-script moments and jabbed at the Democrats. But the delivery was mild-mannered and low-key — lacking the coarse rhetoric that has often marked Trump’s extemporaneous appearances before friendly crowds.
“We’re reaching our hand all across the aisle in pursuit of common ground and common sense reforms, for the good of all Americans — all Americans,” Trump said, as he reaffirmed his support for criminal justice reform.
Trump’s job approval ratings were stuck below 40 percent for much of his first year in office, as swing voters and suburban women rejected the president’s habit of using Twitter and his campaign rallies to stoke cultural divisions and appeal to his loyal base. The generic ballot — projecting which party voters would prefer be in charge on Capitol Hill — was affected similarly.
True independents and suburban women, particularly upscale and educated, are crucial to Republicans’ chances of holding battleground House districts and could determine the fate of their 24-seat majority. In the Senate, they could impact the GOP’s ability to capitalize on a favorable map to pad their 51-49 majority.
In those moments where Trump has acted more conventionally, his approval ratings, and that of his fellow Republicans in Congress, have climbed. In one new poll, the Democrats’ previous double-digit generic ballot lead had shrunk to 2 percentage points. In the last five surveys of Trump’s job approval rating, it registered from the low to mid 40s.
Republicans are expressing optimism that the $1.4 trillion tax overhaul enacted in December will help the party withstand the political headwinds. Some Republicans talk about the tax bill as helping Republicans overcome Trump; others refer to it as helping improve satisfaction with his leadership, thereby overcoming objections to his behavior.
Views of the law, underwater when it passed, have improved markedly, coinciding with announcements by several corporations that they were raising wages, hiring more workers, and investing in more plants and equipment, as a results of the legislation.
“The question” for Republicans in the midterm, said a GOP strategist, “is whether they can match Democrat enthusiasm and whether the suburban people who could not bear to vote for Trump or Clinton can be won over to the results on policy grounds.”