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Let's Stop Acting as if the 2016 Campaign Were Still On

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Friday, June 02, 2017

If you keep up with the news, you might think that the unpleasant and unedifying 2016 presidential campaign is still going on.   

President Donald Trump, up early, is sending out tweets coarsely attacking foreign leaders and American politicians -- complete with misspelled words, in at least one case to the point of indecipherability.  

Runner-up Hillary Clinton is supervising a busy staff, which, after she takes an hour for exercise, fills her in on the 60 minutes' latest news developments. A leader of the "resistance" -- a term she's embraced -- should always be prepared.   

Charitably-minded observers may excuse both of these individuals, neither of whom expected 12 months ago to be in the places and positions they are today. And they might add that they're not the only ones continuing to operate in campaign mode.   

Rush Limbaugh proclaims that "American voters saved this country as we know it." Or, to be more precise, the 46 percent of American voters responsible for securing 304 electoral votes for Trump did.   

Limbaugh is, of course, right that Trump's victory has had important policy consequences, from the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the renunciation of the unenforceable strictures of the Paris climate agreement. More, although probably not so many as most Trump voters would like, are in store.   

But America has rebounded from policy mistakes -- you can make your own list -- before. Every election has policy consequences, some of them pretty serious and many unpredictable. The country has evolved, changed, grown enormously, but much of its character remains recognizable in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, who interviewed the rival presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson 180-some years ago.   

On the other side, 43 percent of respondents to a Politico/Morning Consult poll want Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. Over half of those people -- 23 percent of respondents -- think he has proved "he is unfit to serve and should be removed from office, regardless of whether he committed an impeachable offense or not."   

So to heck with the Constitution and its nitpicking requirement that officials be removed from office only for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." These folks want a revote, right now. For them, the campaign is still on -- as it may still be for the next 17 months, if in 2018 Democratic House candidates make impeachment a main plank of their platforms.   

Amid the continuing campaign chatter, let's step back and ponder how current events will be regarded in the longer run of history.   

Trump's capture of 70 previously Democratic electoral votes in the Midwest and Pennsylvania owes much to his distinctive stands on immigration and trade, even though the problems he cited are of declining importance. Illegal immigration across the Mexican border fell off sharply in 2007, and the reduction in American jobs because of Chinese imports probably crested several years before.   

That positions him as president to claim credit for trends that are ongoing, albeit his policies are arguably accelerating them. Illegal border crossings are apparently way down this year, probably in response to Trump's strengthened enforcement of existing laws. Manufacturing jobs may be rising, too, as rising Chinese wages make Chinese goods less competitive here.   

On foreign policy, Trump has abandoned Barack Obama's tilt to Iran (Obama had a secret back channel with Iran, dating back to the 2008 campaign) and stitched together an informal anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East. He may have persuaded China to exert some discipline over North Korea and has accelerated the long-standing missile defense program, derided for years by Democrats, to protect America from any Kim Jong Un nukes.   

As for Europe, he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both have benefited politically from trading news conference and Twitter insults. Merkel is strengthened for her Sept. 24 election, and Trump can claim to have spurred Europeans to take more responsibility for their own defense.   

This is starting to look like a more conventional Republican foreign policy than campaign rhetoric suggested. Congressional Democrats seem to have stalled in their efforts to find some Team Trump collusion with Russia that would justify the impeachment proceedings their party's base expects and lusts for -- perhaps because an investigation could show that the Obama administration surveilled and criminally unmasked Americans for political reasons.  

I'm happy to join those urging Trump and Clinton to stop acting like candidates. But maybe the rest of us should take a deep breath and stop acting as if the campaign were still on.   

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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