The pundits are suddenly doing something utterly remarkable: praising Donald Trump.
For one brief, shining moment, the allegedly dishonest, corrupt, fake news media gave the new president the equivalent of a standing ovation. Trump is even drawing favorable comments from some of his harshest liberal critics.
And all it took was one good speech.
Here’s my explanation in a nutshell: This is the Trump they've always wanted, optimistic, bipartisan, reasonable, obeying the conventions of Washington.
The media like unity, centrism, discipline, working across the aisle. They don’t like division, extremism, chaos, stiffing the other party.
The highest praise that the press can offer the occupant of the Oval Office is that he sounded “presidential.” And this one has paid a price whenever he comes off as bombastic, pugilistic or undisciplined. But that changed Tuesday night.
Just look at the headlines.
New York Times: “Trump Offers Up a More Hopeful Vision.”
Wall Street Journal: “Trump Reaches for Higher Ground.”
Politico: “Trump Tries On Normal.”
Even the Dow broke 21,000 yesterday.
And you know the president had a good outing when CNN’s uber-liberal Van Jones praises him for the moving tribute to the widow of a slain Navy SEAL: “There are a lot of people who have a lot of reason to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.” (And Jones got blowback from left-wing tweeters.)
Now I’m sure some people are thinking wow, the pundits are easy. And it is fairly amazing, given the animosity between the president and the press, that a single speech could produce such a dramatic reassessment.
And it’s certainly reasonable to ask: Is this just another pivot, as we saw repeatedly during the campaign, that lasts a few days at best? Can the Twitter-happy Trump, who called for moving beyond “petty fights,” show that kind of restraint?
Some on the left who are unhappy with the speech’s positive reception are blaming the media:
“Donald Trump managed to speak for an entire hour without sounding like an unhinged demagogue,” Slate says. “For that, he was hailed by TV pundits across the spectrum who acted as though he’d just singlehandedly defeated ISIS and restored the fortunes of the American middle class, instead of simply reading from a script that said he would do those things.”
Now it’s true that Trump didn’t really moderate his positions on Tuesday night, though he threw in child care and family leave. He left out the $54 billion in budget cuts that will slice deeply into social programs. He made a pitch for clean and clean water right after his budget folks indicated they will slash EPA spending by 24 percent.
Obviously, we’ll quickly revert to partisan battles over immigration, taxes and Obamacare, with Trump fighting not just Democrats but many House conservatives.
But no one expects one speech to change the political landscape. It is a moment when a president tries to connect with a mass audience and give them hope that things will get better. And on that score, even many of Trump’s detractors are admitting that he had a very good night.