By MARSHA MERCER
President Donald Trump faces a tough foe as he prepares for his first State of the Union address Tuesday – and it’s not Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader who lately has seemed a paper tiger.
No, Trump’s worst enemy is himself. The showman has never learned to get out of his own way. His outsized personality casts shadows over everything he touches, even, unfortunately for him, policies people like.
His job approval rating has set records – for being historically low. Only 36 percent approve of the job Trump is doing, the latest Washington Post-ABC News and Gallup polls report. A year after their inaugurations, Barack Obama was at 50 percent, and George W. Bush achieved a stunning 82 percent.
Trump faces a dilemma few, if any, of his predecessors have faced. People are happier with the economy than they’ve been in decades -- but they don’t credit Trump or his policies.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans now say the economy is excellent or good – the highest number in 17 years, the Post-ABC poll said. Traditionally, a president gets credit for a good economy, but so far that linkage has been broken, even though Trump touts the economy at nearly every event.
Trump has become the Rodney Dangerfield of presidents. He gets no respect.
Only 38 percent of people say the Trump administration deserves a great deal or good amount of credit for the economy, while 50 percent say the Obama administration deserves a great deal or good amount of credit, the Post-ABC poll found.
If Trump didn’t boast so much, in effect begging for praise, he might get more. His habit of blaming others for his misfortunes – Democrats, the FBI, Hollywood, the mainstream media – also makes him look petty.
Instead of whining, he could up his own vocabulary and use restraint while tweeting. Sadly, this is as obvious as it is increasingly unlikely.
Americans have become accustomed to the daily diet of boasts, insults and threats from the White House. Many see Trump’s drama as his way of distracting attention from the Russia investigation, but these ploys also overshadow positive trends in employment and the stock market.
Trump has maintained the support of his base but has yet to win over Democrats or independent voters, polls show.
Democrats still struggle to do more than complain about Trump. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus plan to boycott the speech. Democrats who do attend may wear black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement.
If they’re wise, though, no matter what Trump says, Democrats will maintain decorum. No good would come of stooping to the level of Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, who shouted “You lie!” at Obama during a joint session speech on health care in 2009.
We’re likely to see Trump extol his first-year achievements, such as the tax law, reduced regulations, jobs he says are returning to the United States and judicial appointments. He may offer an olive branch or two.
He may find moderation more productive in the long term as he finally turns to a major infrastructure improvement plan, a subject that’s dear to Democratic as well as Republican hearts.
He could take another step toward improving his image with Democrats with a solid proposal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, expected to be released Monday.
Schumer said negotiating with this White House is like “negotiating with Jell-o.” But Trump’s comments Wednesday about a multi-year path to citizenship for the immigrants known as Dreamers show compromise may be possible.
Helping Dreamers would be popular, even if it comes with the high cost of billions for a border wall.
Politics permeate State of the Union addresses, and this one will kick off the 2018 congressional campaigns. Trump’s re-election campaign has already run a tough ad against Democrats regarding immigration, so, like it or not, the 2020 presidential campaign is upon us as well.
Trump says he needs more Republicans in Congress to help him pass his agenda, but Democrats, energized by special election victories, hope for a blue wave election, possibly retaking control of the House.
A little restraint could do Trump a world of good legislatively. But only if he can curb his instincts for bare-knuckles politicking.