Yes, it’s probably too early to sound the trumpets; yes, there is a history of North Korea playing Lucy with the football while the U.S., as Charlie Brown, whiffs badly. Yes, some will argue that Trump has already given Kim what he and his forebears have always wanted—the respect due a nuclear power—without North Korea having to put anything tangible on the table. But when you measure where we are now from where we were just several months ago—Trump threatening “fire and fury” last August, belittling Kim as “Little Rocket Man” in September as North Korea fired missiles into the Pacific, fears of war at a near-fever pitch—we are clearly in a better place. And it is at least plausible that the president’s words and deeds mattered. Maybe China was spooked by Trump’s sabre-ratting (and threats of a trade war) into pressuring Pyongyang. Maybe Trump’s threat to pull troops out of South Korea convinced Moon that a radical change in the status quo was critical. Maybe that’s why the Seoul Olympics created an atmosphere for potential reconciliation the way China’s invitation to American ping-pong players in April 1971 set the stage for President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to China the following year and an end to more than 20 years of enmity.
If any of that is plausible, here’s the next question that arises: Will any Democrat contemplating a run for the presidency—the number is now somewhere between 20 and 50—say so? Or does the base of the party hold Trump in such revulsion that any hint of praise would be a political kiss of death? Are the sentiments about Trump so strong that we would see a replay of what happened to Republicans like Utah Senator Robert Bennett, who lost a bid for renomination in 2010 for the sin of voting two years earlier for the bank bailout that Democratic nominee Barack Obama (and lame duck President George W. Bush) supported?