Is That a Little Sunshine Breaking Through the February Gloom?

by Jim Geraghty

Let’s start the week with some easily overlooked polls, all gradually moving in the right direction for Republicans. . .

In mid December, President Trump’s job approval-disapproval split was abysmal, 37.2 percent approval, 58.1 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics average. Now it’s 41.5 approval to 53.9 percent disapproval. (Recall Trump took office with roughly a 44-44 split and he went “underwater” almost immediately. He’s got a low ceiling and high floor.) Put another way, Trump is only four and a half points off his all-time high in that average.

The “right track”/“wrong direction” numbers are also looking better in recent weeks. In mid October, just 28.6 percent of respondents said the country was on the right track and almost 64 percent said the country was headed in the wrong direction; now 37.9 percent say the country is on the right track, 55 say wrong direction.

The Democrats’ advantage on the generic congressional ballot — a deeply flawed measure, admittedly, because we don’t have a nationwide vote to determine control of Congress — is down to 6.7 points; the Democrats enjoyed a 12.8 percent margin as 2017 ended.

Finally, two pollsters have surveyed Floridians on how they would respond to a matchup between Florida senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Rick Scott, the Republican governor whose term ends this year. Mason-Dixon put Nelson up by one, the University of North Florida put Nelson up by six. In both polls, Nelson was below 50 percent.

None of this is to say 2018 looks hunky-dory for Republicans. One GOP gubernatorial candidate put it to me that his numbers showed 90 percent of Republicans liking Trump (unsurprising) and 90 percent of Democrats hating Trump (also unsurprising) — but 70 percent of independents disliking Trump, which is a tough hurdle to overcome. But with the passage of the tax cuts, perhaps the country’s mood is starting to lift and Republicans’ enthusiasm is starting to return.

The True North of the American Media’s Coverage of the Olympics

The ludicrous coverage of North Korea’s presence at the Winter Olympics suggests that for the metaphorical compass of many of the biggest institutions in America’s mainstream media, there is a new true north (no pun intended, but now that I think about it, I should have intended it): Whoever is in opposition to the Trump administration is the hero of the story — no matter the circumstances, no matter the stakes.

John McCain, Jeff Flake, Jim Comey, LaVar Ball, the intelligence community, corporate CEOs, kneeling NFL players, the North Korean regime — no matter what you’ve done in the past, no matter how much the media collectively previously hammered you, if you’re butting heads with the Trump administration, you will get the more sympathetic angle in the news coverage of that dispute.

No foreign leader has enjoyed coverage as good as North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong since Vogue profiled Asma al-Assad, first lady of Syria, back in 2011. (That was right before Assad’s regime killed tens of thousands of people and used chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.) A sampling:

Reuters: “North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold.”

CNN: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics!”

Business Insider: “From her “side-eye” of US Vice President Mike Pence to hints at Korean unification, Kim has stolen the spotlight at the Winter Olympics.”

Washington Post: “The ‘Ivanka Trump of North Korea’ captivates people in the South at the Olympics.”

In the name of Otto Warmbier, could we avoid variations of the term “captive” in praising North Korea’s leaders during the Olympics?

The New York Times wrote, “Her quietly friendly approach while in South Korea — photographers repeatedly captured her smiling — seemed to endear her to some observers.”

If a smile is all it takes to “endear” you to a regime as brutal as North Korea’s, you are an exceptionally cheap date. Could you lower the bar a little more? As I joked Sunday, I await the headline, “Kim Jong Un’s Sister Shocks, Delights World By Not Killing Anyone During Meeting.”

And why the heck has every reporter in South Korea suddenly developed a crush on those cheerleaders?

The Associated Press: “North Korean Cheerleaders Spark Fashion Envy”

The U.K. Metro newspaper gushed, “North Korea’s 200 cheerleaders could be the best thing about the Winter Olympics.”

ABC News: “Clad in coordinated outfits of red with white and blue accents, North Korea’s throng of more than 200 cheerleaders are stealing the spotlight at the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in South Korea as they chant, sway and dance in unison.”

Give USA Today some credit for remembering some history, deep in a story:

In 2006, 21 members of a North Korean cheering squad that had traveled to South Korea for an international athletic event were sent to a prison camp for talking about what they saw in the South, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.

It was left to BuzzfeedBuzzfeed! — to bring some sanity and perspective back to the situation:

In 2015, a South Korean report said that between 2000 and 2013, almost 1,400 North Korean citizens were publicly executed, reportedly as a means to “keep the population in line. Thousands of North Koreans were required to witness firing squad executions in public stadiums in 2013, according to a South Korean newspaper.

Some of these reporters will no doubt insist they’re not touting the charm of Kim Yo Jong and the North Koreans; they’re merely reporting on the reaction of some portion of South Korean public. The South Koreans live their daily lives in the crosshairs and no doubt have a strong cultural appetite for dreams of a peaceful reunification. Last month I wrote, “Sometimes South Korea feels like our buddy who’s still convinced he can patch things up and get back together with the crazy ex-girlfriend who tried to run him over with her car.” I suppose that if you live next door to a crazy dangerous psychopath long enough, you welcome the days the neighbor smiles instead of threatening you.

Finally, in my circles, I saw a bit of grumbling that the United States Olympic team entered the opening ceremonies by dancing to the South Korean star Psy’s 2012 hit, “Gangram Style.” Back in 2004, Psy performed a virulently anti-American song about killing U.S. soldiers and their families. In 2012, Psy apologized, declaring, “While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words. While it’s important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so . . . I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world.”

In some ways, this sort of seems appropriate, a testament to the power of America. We’re hard to hate for long. One year you’re denouncing the United States in the vilest terms, eight years later you’re embraced by that same country as a star, and five years after that your biggest hit is adopted as the U.S. Olympic team’s entrance anthem.

Happy Days Are Here Again?

Where do I begin in summarizing how wonderful the folks at the Leadership Program of the Rockies are? It’s a first-class organization, aiming to help those who have already dipped their toes into the waters of political activism or fighting for a good cause, and who want to become more effective in communication, outreach, networking, and enacting change. My thanks to Bob Schaffer, Shari Williams, Mark Hillman, Kelly Maher, Laura Carno, and everyone else out there who helped put together such a special event this weekend. If you’re a Coloradan interested in promoting the principles of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, you must check this organization out — presuming you haven’t already.

The speaker at the closing luncheon was the legendary economist Art Laffer, who sang the praises of the recently-passed tax cuts and contended that the United States is entering a period of remarkable economic growth. He pointed out that the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta projected that the U.S. gross domestic product will grow by 5.4 percent in the first quarter of 2018, which would be the best quarter since 2003. (In 2014, U.S. GDP growth did hit 5.2 percent.)

A booming economy would mitigate or alleviate a lot of problems in this country. Not all of them, but a lot.

ADDENDA: Spotted on my flights to and from Colorado . . . Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, getting back to his home state for the weekend. He flies coach! A citizen-justice.

As David Jones observed, when professor Robert Kelly appears on our television screens, commentating live from his home office, everyone is watching the door for surprise visitors.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty