At first blush this seems like a lame, trivial topic for him to waste his address on, this week of all weeks. We may have just seen the most consequential seven days of his presidency. He ended the ObamaCare contraception mandate, canceled the unconstitutional cost-sharing subsidies, then topped it off by announcing he was decertifying the Iran deal yesterday. Those last two changes especially could have momentous consequences for the country and for the midterms. And they’re complex subjects, befitting lengthier explanations. He did address the Iran decision in a speech on Friday but you never know how many voters might have missed that on a workday. Subordinating significant policy changes to NFL culture-war material plays into his critics’ hands by making him seem less interested in the business of governing than in playing with shiny media-friendly objects.
But then I remembered: No one watches these things. Ask yourself, when was the last time a weekly address from either Trump or Obama made a dent in the political consciousness? Obama started doing them, I assume, on the theory that it never hurts to have an extra bit of messaging floating around out there, especially when the cost of producing it as cheap as it is with a weekly three-minute YouTube video. Trump carried on the tradition for the same reason, and also because traditions have their own inertia. But even with a few hundred thousand views, they’re totally negligible. Most of those viewers will be loyalists who already agree with the president on nearly everything. If you’re going to bother writing and recording these clips, you might as well strive for maximum virality. And what’s more likely to do that, Trump droning through the ins and outs of nuclear decertification or Trump goading NFL stars to get off their asses for Old Glory?
Every day millions of American citizens raise it, salute it, and honor it on the home front. American workers hang Old Glory above factory floors where they proudly stamp their products “Made in the USA” and more and more products are being so stamped because our economy is starting to boom. We are doing really well. Companies are moving back into the United States and far fewer will be moving out. Believe me. And it’s already happened. American schoolchildren put their hands on their hearts as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Before watching a football game, you want to see those players be proud of their country. Respect our country. Respect our flag. And respect our national anthem and we think they will. We certainly hope they will.
Ever the marketer, POTUS probably recognized the weekly address as an opportunity to burnish his “brand.” His core brand is that of a culture warrior against political correctness so that’s what he went with here, given a choice between the NFL, Iran, and ObamaCare (and, er, Puerto Rico recovery and the California wildfires). And Trump famously has always understood something about politics that his slicker Republican rivals didn’t, to their detriment in the primaries last year: People like big, bold, simple ideas. No one wants to listen to Jeb Bush rattle through his 15-part tax reform plan. They want the wall. They want to bomb the sh*t out of ISIS. And they want NFL millionaires to show a little respect during the anthem. Consultant Patrick Hynes knows:
In the 430-word memo, Goodell mentioned “fans” four times for a reason. The team owners — his bosses — are terrified of losing them. And rightly so. Last year’s slight slump in NFL television ratings is turning into a nosedive this year. Some teams are having a hard time getting enough warm bodies in the bleachers on game day. And among those that show up, a few, like Vice President Mike Pence, are walking out in disgust…
Trump’s rout of the NFL on this issue is in many ways the mirror image of his 2016 primary performance, when he caught so many opponents flatfooted. Republicans were badly out of touch with their base. Trump knew it and exploited the gap. And now he’s proven the same was true of the leadership of America’s dominant sport, to their great chagrin.
You can think he’s a bad president and still acknowledge that his political instincts are better than any congressional Republican leader’s. That may be his biggest failing on repeal and replace, in fact: If he had laid down the law early and demanded a more populist bill from Ryan and McConnell, at the very least the GOP’s ObamaCare efforts would have been more popular. No wonder he decided to take matters into his own hands this week.