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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Trump's 'best week' boosts Republican poll prospects

Gains on North Korea and Iran nuclear deal pullout portray president focused on campaign pledges

US President Donald Trump speaks in the White House Rose Garden during an event on reducing drug prices on May 11, 2018. Nicholas Kamm / AFP
US President Donald Trump speaks in the White House Rose Garden during an event on reducing drug prices on May 11, 2018. Nicholas Kamm / AFP

On Tuesday Donald Trump announced the US was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. Two days later he stood on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force base to welcome home three hostages freed by North Korea.

“These are great people, they've been through a lot, but it’s a great honour,” he said during a made-for-TV moment in the early hours of Thursday morning. “But the true honour is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of the nuclear weapons.”

Later that day he announced on Twitter that he would be meeting Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in Singapore on June 12.

Along with the first lady’s initiative on child well-being and cyber bullying, plus action to reduce the price of prescription medicine, last week offered an image of a president hard at work, making good on campaign promises and unveiling the sort of bold measures that Republicans now hope will shore up support and see them through mid-term elections later this year.

“It shouldn’t be surprising or shocking to anyone that he is delivering on the promises he made during the campaign,” said Michael Johns, a Tea Party founder and Republican commentator.

The headlines offer a distraction from months of chaos inside the White House, a slew of fresh allegations against a key Trump aide and the continuing disruption of investigations into Russian efforts to swing the 2016 presidential election.

Conservative commentators – not always Mr Trump’s biggest cheerleaders – have been cock-a-hoop at the Iran decision. They lined up to declare the past seven days as Mr Trump’s best week in office.

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, suggested it was another example of the Trump paradox: a president that makes frequent outlandish claims but who has proved determined and focused when it comes to his campaign promises

“When Trump was elected, it seemed he might be endlessly flexible and up for grabs. He certainly is willing to say anything at any time. But he hasn’t shifted or shrunk from the core commitments that defined his candidacy. So far, ‘he said he would do this’ has been a remarkably reliable guide to the Trump agenda.”

Jeanine Pirro, a former judge whose Fox News show is one of Mr Trump’s favourites, also praised the president’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

“Mr Trump has reassured the world his word is worth more than any former US president’s,” she said.

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The recent focus on foreign affairs has helped shift attention from a growing scandal at home where Michael Cohen, his long-term attorney and aide, has been accused of earning millions of dollars by brokering deals with companies looking to gain knowledge about the president.

Critics also warn that Mr Trump’s bold moves are based on destructive tendencies rather than constructive problem-solving. In particular, his decision to withdraw from the Iran deal risks alienating European partners and undermining Nato cohesion, they say.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president who has fostered a close relationship with Mr Trump, spoke with the US leader on Saturday to express his “grave concern about stability” in the Middle East, according to his office.

And although Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, avoided mentioning Mr Trump by name when she recently addressed the question of what comes next for the Iran deal, she left listeners in no doubt about her target.

“It seems that screaming, shouting, insulting and bullying, systematically destroying and dismantling everything that is already in place, is the mood of our times,” she said.

But at home, Republicans say the president is winning credit for decisive foreign policy, as well as a booming economy and historically low rates of unemployment.

The result is a string of polls showing rising approval ratings. An average maintained by Real Clear Politics shows his approval now stands at more than 43 per cent – still modest but several points higher than the sub-40 per cent rating he endured for most of last year.

Republican strategists believe his strong week in foreign affairs, coupled with continuing economic good news, means the party may not suffer the wipeout once expected in November’s mid-term elections.

The latest CNN poll shows the Democratic lead has slipped to three points from a 16-point high in February.

“Standing up to Iran and then the classic Trump TV moment with the hostages returning from North Korea will be a reminder to a lot of people why they voted for him in the first place,” said an aide to a Republican member of the House of Representatives.

“Everyone is predicting a good result for Democrats, but we know that voters want a strong, decisive leader – and that is what the last week showed.”