As President Trump enters the stretch run of his first year in office, two big things are clear. He has not lost his remarkable instinct for reading the public mood, but neither has he found a way to harness that instinct into a successful governing formula.
Those two threads of his presidency were on vivid display last week. Trump’s attack on NFL kneelers looked like a throwaway line in a political endorsement, then suddenly exploded into a new front of the culture wars.
Those betting he had goofed learned nothing over the last two years. They’re still drinking the Kool-Aid of the NeverTrumpers who insisted he could not win the GOP nomination or the White House.
But even now, it pays to remember there is a reason Trump won 30 states against Hillary Clinton and, no, it’s not the Russians or James Comey or sexism. It’s that Trump understood then — and still does — how to give voice to the anger and angst of many middle- and working-class Americans who believe their government betrayed them and their nation is leaving them behind.
His zeroing in on the NFL players protesting during the national anthem is just the latest example. The participants were few, but Trump recognized the insult to flag and country.
His framing of the issue as a matter of patriotism caught star athletes and NFL bosses off guard, and their first reaction was a good imitation of “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and others who underestimated the power of Trump’s punches.
Soon enough, though, loud fan booing, bonfires of NFL tickets and declining TV ratings got the game’s attention.
Polls show that a big majority of the public is strongly in Trump’s camp, which is an advantage as he starts the push for tax reform that likely will dominate the rest of his rookie year. The test is whether he can carry a tax package — almost any tax package — over the goal line.
The stakes are enormously high, so high that it is reasonable to say the results could determine the outcome of…