ABC, NBC Dump Cold Water on Trump’s Afghanistan Plan Due to Bad Polls, Charlottesville

On Monday night, the “big three” networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC each broke in with special reports for President Trump’s speech announcing his Afghanistan strategy and, in the course of the post-speech analyses, ABC and NBC lobbed cold water on the plans seeing as how low Trump’s approval ratings have been.

Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd followed up his recent streak of giving aid and comfort to Antifa by expressing skepticism about the President’s decision. Todd ruled that Trump’s “selling a country on extending a war that has already been lasted — already lasted 16 years” with a low approval rating.

“And signaling more troops are going and signaling that there is no end date or no end date that I want to share with you, that would be a difficult task if — if he were an extraordinarily popular President right now. It's even harder considering the sort of the wounds politically that he has. Something that he did try to address a bit at the top of his remarks,” Todd added.

Over on ABC, chief anchor and former Clinton administration official George Stephanopoulos started with faux Republican and senior strategic adviser Matthew Dowd, invoking the President’s opening few lines and noting they were in reference to the events of Charlottesville:

I want to begin — start with our chief political analyst, Matthew Dowd. Something that was made good there after those remarks about the Charlottesville violence were widely criticized here in the United States. We have a new poll showing 2-to-1 disapproval. The President said we cannot remain at peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other. 

Dowd was speaking at almost the exact same time as Todd, so it was only natural that their dubious conclusions were similar.

“[T]his is a very unpopular President engaging in a very unpopular war with a President who has a huge trust deficit in this and now this is his. He owns this is war now he didn't start,” Dowd began. 

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He also made the rest of his comments about how the President indirectly referenced the country’s strife following Charlottesville:

But, more importantly, the first five minutes of his speech was about — it was obviously post-Charlotte — post-Charlottesville. It was about race — racism. It was about bigotry, and I think he and his staff understood before he could even get to talking about the strategy and the war, he had to figure out a way to go back to his Monday talking points before his disastrous press conference where he went both sides, and he had to figure out a way to go back before he could go forward on this war.

CBS took a different approach, offering a far shorter post-speech discussion with interim CBS Evening News anchor Anthony Mason and chief White House correspondent Major Garrett. Mason noted Trump’s “marked shift and a marked shift in tone” based on his past opinions about the war.

Garrett offered criticism of the speech not due to Charlottesville or his poll numbers but the lack of specifics, harping on “[a] marked shift in tone but a great absence of specifics.” 

He then added, in part, the following: 

If anyone in America's living room was watching the speech was waiting to hear that precise number from President Trump about an increase in U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, well, they listened in vain.....But without those numbers it's hard to measure and it will be hard to measure in the future exactly how much progress is being achieved. One White House official told us tonight, we will know progress when we see it. Will the country? That’s the open question.

Here’s the relevant transcript from the NBC News Special Report on August 21:

NBC Presidential Speech
August 21, 2017
9:28 p.m. Eastern

LESTER HOLT: President Trump including his remarks describing the path forward in Afghanistan. The President readily acknowledging the about face he's done on the issue saying that things change, paraphrasing that things change when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. He did not answer a lot of questions and that apparently by design as to how many troops would now be committed saying that that sort of operational detail they will no longer provide or how long the U.S. military commitment will last as we are now in the 16th year of the war in Afghanistan. Let's bring in our political director, Chuck Todd, who’s been watching long with me. Chuck, what do you make of the President's path forward? 

CHUCK TODD: You know, Lester, under the best of circumstances, I think selling a country on extending a war that has already been lasted — already lasted 16 years and signaling more troops are going and signaling that there is no end date or no end date that I want to share with you, that would be a difficult task if — if he were an extraordinarily popular President right now. It's even harder considering the sort of the wounds politically that he has. Something that he did try to address a bit at the top of his remarks, but Lester, on the policy front, I think the most remarkable announcement he made was the rhetorical ratcheting up of pressure Pakistan, not just talking about Pakistan being a safe harbor for these terrorists, but even inviting Pakistan's sworn enemy, India, to play an even bigger role in Afghanistan, which is really more of a threat to Pakistan. If you don't get your act together, we could actually stop working with you as an ally and work more with India. So I think the policy announcement and the most significant thing that he said tonight had to do with ratcheting up things with Pakistan.

Here’s the relevant transcript from the ABC News Special Report on August 21:

ABC Presidential Speech
August 21, 2017
9:28 p.m. Eastern

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump laying it out there. The path forward in Afghanistan. No more deadlines, no more timetables. Tough conditions on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He didn't say so in the speech, but this will require more troops. His generals have already recommended that about 4,000 more troops. But this was also a plea for unity here at home. That was how the President began his speech. I want to begin — start with our chief political analyst, Matthew Dowd. Something that was made good there after those remarks about the Charlottesville violence were widely criticized here in the United States. We have a new poll showing 2-to-1 disapproval. The President said we cannot remain at peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other. 

MATTHEW DOWD: George, you know, I was struck by a couple of things. First is this is a very unpopular President engaging in a very unpopular war with a President who has a huge trust deficit in this and now this is his. He owns this is war now he didn't start. But, more importantly, the first five minutes of his speech was about — it was obviously post-Charlotte — post-Charlottesville. It was about race — racism. It was about bigotry, and I think he and his staff understood before he could even get to talking about the strategy and the war, he had to figure out a way to go back to his Monday talking points before his disastrous press conference where he went both sides, and he had to figure out a way to go back before he could go forward on this war.

Here’s the relevant transcript from the CBS News Special Report on August 21:

CBS Presidential Speech
August 21, 2017
9:28 p.m. Eastern

ANTHONY MASON: President Trump, at Joint Baser Myer in Virginia, announcing a shift in policy towards Afghanistan and a shift in his attitude. He said my original instinct was to pull out but he said he came to decision last Friday at the Camp David meeting that an honorable and enduring outcome was necessary, that the consequence of rapid exit were unacceptable and security threats immense. Major Garrett is there. Major, a marked shift and a marked shift in tone from the President. 

MAJOR GARRETT: A marked shift in tone but a great absence of specifics, Anthony. If anyone in America's living room was watching the speech was waiting to hear that precise number from President Trump about an increase in U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, well, they listened in vain. The President did not disclose what many of his advisors have let us know that the number is anywhere between 3,800 and 4,000. What the White House now says the president simply not going to get involved in those specifics. He in June gave Defense Secretary Mattis authority to deploy upward of that number of U.S. military personnel but that authority is his. Of course, the Defense Secretary was simply not going to make a move like that without an endorsement — a strategic endorsement of what you just heard from the President tonight. A way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the President says will increase security. But without those numbers it's hard to measure and it will be hard to measure in the future exactly how much progress is being achieved. One White House official told us tonight, we will know progress when we see it. Will the country? That’s the open question.

MASON: It is an open question. Major, the President said tonight we are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.


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CyberAlerts Charlottesville violence Foreign Policy Afghanistan Military War on Terrorism Conservatives & Republicans ABC CBS NBC Video Government & Press Major Garrett Anthony Mason George Stephanopoulos Chuck Todd Donald Trump Matthew Dowd
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