It feels both counter-intuitive and a bit surreal to render this analysis within the context of a just-concluded, acrimonious impeachment trial, but there's a serious case to be made that this week's Sunday-through-Wednesday stretch represented the most politically-advantageous four-day period of Donald Trump's presidency to date. Consider each day, in succession:
SUNDAY -- In front of 100 million sets of eyeballs, Trump's campaign debuted two campaign ads, one of which was a well-guarded surprise. In addition to their triumphal spot touting renewed American strength and prosperity, Team Trump used another 30-second ad to promote a major, under-appreciated legislative accomplishment in criminal justice reform. The former ad drove home an economic message that will underpin the president's re-election argument. The latter informed a truly massive television audience of a bipartisan achievement that appeals to non-base voters and softens his image:
MONDAY -- Iowa's Democratic Party suffered an embarrassing meltdown, culminating in no results being published for nearly a full day (as of late Wednesday evening, some data was still outstanding). Beyond that, despite media chatter and hype about huge enthusiasm, Iowa Democrats turned out in underwhelming numbers for their first-in-the-nation caucus -- approximately matching 2016 levels, and not even approaching the historic bonanza of 2008. Distrust and disillusionment are in the air. Unity may prove challenging, for many months to come. The candidate long regarded as the incumbent's toughest opponent on paper, Joe Biden, sputtered badly, finishing a distant fourth. And on the GOP side of the caucuses, Trump sailed to an easy and utterly dominant win -- amid better than expected (and better than Obama 2012) Republican turnout. While Democrats floundered in dysfunction and humiliation, the Iowa Republican Party was a model of professionalism and efficiency.
TUESDAY -- On the morning of his third State of the Union Address, President Trump received a major, narrative-shaping morale boost in the form of a blockbuster Gallup survey ("Trump's best poll ever"). Not only did his overall job approval spike to an all-time high (during an impeachment trial, I'll remind you), his party's approval rating bounced to majority status, and the reasons behind his whopping 63 percent economic approval mark were made quite clear:
Notable: 74% of Americans believe they will be better off in a year, the highest percent since 1977, according to a new @Gallup poll— Heather Long (@byHeatherLong) February 5, 2020
59% say they are better off now than a year ago -- the highest since 1999.https://t.co/LOhMnYgV8a #economy pic.twitter.com/u6u62Zll9r
Later that evening, the president delivered an effective speech -- which some savvy Democrats saw as a blueprint for a formidable re-election strategy. It seemed to go over well with at least some undecided voters, who I cannot imagine were impressed with this little tantrum from one of his post prominent detractors.
WEDNESDAY -- As predicted, the president was easily acquitted on both articles of impeachment by the US Senate, with vote tallies falling roughly 20 votes shy of the conviction and removal threshold. I've made my thoughts known about the president's conduct, as well as controversial elements of the trial. A very large majority of voters are unlikely to view the pair of acquittals as a 'vindication,' but four of the last five public polls leading up to the verdicts showed Americans leaning against removing the president from office. People have seemed exhausted by the whole process and I'd bet that many are relieved that it's over. The White House would surely have preferred to have seen at least one or two Democratic votes against conviction, and they're surely chagrined by Mitt Romney's decision (respectable, in my opinion, despite disagreeing with his final conclusion), but a 'not guilty' outcome is a 'not guilty' outcome. They needed a supermajority to convict. They got clear majorities to acquit.
All in all, not a bad run of 96 hours, coinciding with the opposition party's shambolic, formal start to 2020 voting. I'll leave you with this question -- which may seem snarky, but it's absolutely apt, given Trump's penchant for self-destructive nonsense:
Fox News host Chris Wallace asking, can Trump handle success? Good question.— David Rutz (@DavidRutz) February 5, 2020
Perhaps the president's smart restraint in declining to mention impeachment during the State of the Union was a positive omen for at least a relative modicum of election season discipline.