To end your week, here is a pop quiz, a primer on political machinations and a history lesson, all rolled into one.
First, some background material to help determine the answer:
On Jan. 25 at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in New Mexico, all 168 members unanimously voted to approve a resolution pledging their “undivided support for President Donald J. Trump and his effective Presidency.”
As the Washington Post reported, “The resolution praised his courage, his ‘bold and innovative’ talents as a communicator, and his decision to follow through on campaign promises.”
The Hill said of the RNC’s action, “While the resolution is largely symbolic, it is also unusual, because the RNC has historically refrained from expressing support for a candidate before he officially becomes the party’s nominee.”
As proof that the resolution was interpreted with raised eyebrows, the headline in the conservative Washington Examiner read, “RNC moves to pre-empt internal opposition to Trump.” And the Examiner reported, “Motivated by recent criticism of Trump’s leadership from Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, some RNC members pushed for countering it with a stronger resolution that specifically backed the president’s renomination and re-election. But such a measure was killed in the RNC’s resolutions committee, causing some to accuse the party of quietly keeping its options open for 2020 should Trump be driven from office by legal or political scandal.”
Then the Examiner added some backroom intrigue: “Meanwhile, some veteran RNC members were privately dismayed that any resolution was debated and passed, grumbling that it creates the appearance that Trump is in trouble.”
Armed with these media reports, here is the quiz question:
Is the RNC resolution a sign of Trump’s political strength or weakness?
In trying to answer, I spoke with an RNC member who was present at the meeting and voted for the resolution, but who asked not to be named.
The committee member said, “The RNC is totally behind our president, and we just wanted to make that known to the world. We decided not to do an official endorsement because we didn’t want to go down that road being perceived as somehow endorsing in a primary because the RNC doesn’t do that — so if there are any primary challengers, nobody can complain. But it is clearly the sentiment of the body that we support Donald Trump 100 percent.”
In response, I wanted to know if the real meaning of the resolution was to scare off primary challengers. The member replied, “We are just saying that the 168-member RNC supports the president 100 percent, period. That’s it. There is no ulterior motive or hidden messages. Let the world know because it was three years ago when it was alleged that maybe the RNC wasn’t pulling behind Donald Trump – well, we are.”
Then the member added a warning, “We know that the Democrats are going to throw everything against Trump and we are ready for the battle.”
As expected, following release of the resolution President Trump tweeted:
Thank you to the Republican National Committee, (the RNC), who voted UNANIMOUSLY yesterday to support me in the upcoming 2020 Election. Considering that we have done more than any Administration in the first two years, this should be easy. More great things now in the works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2019
A week later, Trump’s tweet is ancient history. However, it’s worth revisiting his stunning phrase “this should be easy.”
Yes, of course, it should be easy because, according to the resolution, Trump provides “a new message of hope, opportunity, prosperity, and national security.”
Hence, Trump’s “easy” re-election should mirror the “easiest” Republican presidential re-election blowout in U.S. history — the 1984 contest when Ronald Reagan won a record-setting 525 electoral votes to former Vice President Walter Mondale’s 13.
My reason for referencing that stunning achievement is because of Trump’s quotes comparing himself to Reagan in a recent book, “Trump’s Enemies: How the Deep State Is Undermining the Presidency.” The co-authors are both “Team Trumpers”: Corey Lewandowski was Trump’s early 2016 campaign manager who, when fired, was succeeded by Paul Manafort; David N. Bossie was hired as deputy campaign manager to Steve Bannon in early September 2016. Both Lewandowski and Bossie have since remained inside Trump’s ever-shrinking “circle of love.”
In the book, the president says his achievements are “far greater than Ronald Reagan” and “I blow Ronald Reagan away.” Thus, his re-election “should be easy.”
Perhaps it is “Morning Again in America” – the now-iconic first line from Reagan’s famous 1984 campaign commercial that captured the mood of a hopeful nation. In the meantime, the American electorate, as evidenced by Trump’s job approval ratings, has yet to receive a sunny “Reaganesque” memo.
Still, there is an intriguing job approval parallel between the two presidents stemming from their early third years in office.
On this exact date in 1983, Reagan’s approval stood at 35 percent — his low point for the entire year. But, after a slow, steady climb, he ended that third year with a job approval at 54 percent. Then in late October 1984, days before his landslide, that rating ticked up to 58 percent.
Conversely, today Trump’s approval rating average is 41 percent — not his lowest, but around his norm. Therefore, if he is to “blow Reagan away” in a re-election that “should be easy,” his approval numbers must also rise commensurate with Reagan’s. And that falls under the headings “To be determined” and “Watch this space.”
Circling back, what is my pop-quiz answer?
The RNC resolution “100 percent” supporting Trump is neither a sign of the president’s strength or weakness — it’s more like a political Rorschach test, totally up for interpretation.
But Trump’s confident Twitter reaction is NOT up for interpretation; his re-election should be anything but “easy.”
Myra Adams is a media producer and writer who served on the McCain Ad Council during the GOP nominee’s 2008 campaign and on the 2004 Bush campaign creative team.