Hurricane Harvey: President Trump’s Turning Point
Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor
Opinion — Just a matter of weeks ago, the media seemed to have more than enough ammunition to portray the Trump Administration as completely falling apart: from the Russia conspiracy theory, to the race-baiting in the wake of Charlottesville, to the departures of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.
Yet now, a saving grace seems to have arrived for the President; its name is Harvey.
Hurricane Harvey is easily among the worst hurricanes in U.S. history. Having dropped just shy of 52 inches of rain, it was officially the wettest hurricane to ever hit the contiguous United States. The impact was even worse than expected, and the highest estimates of the damage are around $190 billion - thus surpassing Hurricane Katrina as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Ben Shapiro has aptly described it as “Trump’s first crisis.”
As is the case with past historic disasters - from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina - such occurrences often result in a “rally-around-the-flag” effect in which the entire country feels united behind a common cause. It appears that Hurricane Harvey was no exception, but what was truly at stake was not even the question of national unity, but the public perception of President Trump.
The President wasted no time in getting down to the damage areas right away, departing the day after the worst had passed. He immediately met with Governor Greg Abbott, and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. He toured the damaged areas and stopped at several shelters to help hand out food to those who were affected by the storm, also taking pictures with the survivors. To top it all off, he donated $1 million of his own money to help with relief for the victims of the hurricane.
The public response, of course, has been overwhelmingly positive. A poll by Huffington Post and YouGov recorded that 42% of respondents approved of his response, compared to only 24% who disapproved. A Fox News poll recorded that 44% approved, while only 26% disapproved and 30% were unsure.
In addition, there were small anecdotal accounts of a gradual shift in public opinion as a result of his response to the hurricane. When the President spent time helping out at a shelter, which predominantly served African-Americans, many of them seemed thrilled to meet the President. As ABC reporter Elex Michaelson reported on Twitter, two African-American women changed their opinion of the President upon meeting him, describing him as “a wonderful man.” Political commentator and “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams has repeatedly praised the optics of Trump helping out the African-American community, calling it “Persuasion done well,” and argues that “Things are changing in the national mind” in a way that will benefit the President.
And all the while, the media could do nothing to attack the President’s overwhelmingly positive response to the disaster. The closest they could come was attacking the fact that First Lady Melania Trump was seen wearing heels as she and the President boarded Air Force One to fly to Texas. They tried to claim that this was proof of an “out-of-touch” first couple, although this insignificant attack was quickly debunked when it was pointed out that she simply wore those on the runway and changed shoes on the plane. This received an overwhelmingly negative backlash as the media found the “out-of-touch” narrative turned on its head to accuse them of being the ones who were out-of-touch.
And, soon enough, the President will get to repeat this same swift and caring response when the wrath of Hurricane Irma passes over the Southeast, further proving his dedication to the American people and the national well-being. The more he continues to display his empathy for all to see, no matter how much the media may try to cover it up or deflect from it, the more opinions will change towards him for the better.
Such a crisis as a major national disaster is a turning point for most presidencies. For Bush, 9/11 elevated him before Katrina knocked him back down. For Obama, Hurricane Sandy arguably played a role in his reelection. But President Trump especially benefits from this crisis happening very early on into his presidency rather than later, giving him even more time to benefit from the rapid rise of positive outlooks on his presidency.