Since I was doing something productive Tuesday night — announcing a playoff basketball game — I did not see Donald Trump’s speech.
James Freeman did, and noticed something not about Trump:
Tuesday was a rough night for the resistance, and not just because Donald Trump gave the finest speech of his career. The movement also suffered grievous self-inflicted wounds in its continuing campaign to destroy the nation’s 45th president. Democratic donors are no doubt beginning to ask themselves why they signed on for another era of Nancy Pelosi’s leadership of their party in the House.
Mrs. Pelosi led Democratic women in wearing white, recalling the suffragette movement. This could have been a patriotic gesture of unity—similar to the President’s reference to Black History Month in the opening lines of his speech—allowing all Americans to appreciate how far human liberty has advanced in this great nation while recognizing challenges that remain. But instead it was a gimmick, used by Democrats to suggest that Mr. Trump is a threat to our most basic freedoms.
Mrs. Pelosi and her colleagues obviously decided before the event that they would provide television cameras with reaction shots expressing their disapproval or even contempt for the President. He caught them off guard by delivering a big-hearted, moving and gracious address, but they seemed unable to react in real time. The pantsuit caucus and their equally grumpy male Democratic colleagues continued to sit, frown and offer tepid applause or none at all even for lines that would be objectionable to no one outside of ISIS.
Perhaps the most compelling moment in the history of presidential addresses—with the nation seeing a grieving widow as her heroic husband was being honored—also was not sufficient to inspire the anti-Trumpers to alter their communications strategy. Then Democrats fled the chamber immediately at the conclusion of Mr. Trump’s remarks like Jets fans in the third quarter. Even after it was over, Ms. Pelosi still didn’t understand what had just happened and continued to fire off negative remarks across various media.
Tuesday was in many ways a mirror image of the start of the previous presidency. Whereas Mr. Obama gave Republicans not the slightest incentive to try to cooperate, Mr. Trump just made it extremely difficult for Democrats in swing districts to keep pretending he’s Hitler.
One could argue that the Trump resistance is making encouraging progress in refining its message given that members of the movement began his presidency by fashioning headgear named after genitalia. But the campaign to de-legitimize Mr. Trump can’t afford too many nights like Tuesday. And it will be interesting to watch which Democrats running in 2018 think they can afford to stand next to Mrs. Pelosi.
So much is written about our historically unpopular president that it’s easy to overlook how unpopular the Democratic congressional leadership is. The latest WSJ/NBC poll shows that while Mr. Trump has only slightly higher negative ratings—47% compared to Mrs. Pelosi’s 44%—he also has much higher positive ratings. In the survey, 46% of Americans have positive feelings toward Mr. Trump, while only 19% feel that way about the House Democratic leader.
This does not mean last night was an unmitigated triumph for conservatism. The President offered an encouraging promise of “big, big” tax cuts, but with few details. His calls for de-regulation were inspiring, such as when he pointed out the lives at stake when the FDA drags its feet on drug approvals. But after making a powerful case against government regulation of business, he then explained that government must regulate business that crosses our borders. This makes no sense, and as Mark Perry points out with a nearby chart, even if one believes the trade deficit in goods is a problem, one shouldn’t forget the rising trade surplus we are running in services.
Still, after watching Tuesday’s Trump triumph and the reaction of Democrats, Republicans running in 2018 probably have one thing on their minds this morning: Vive la Résistance!