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November 02, 2017

One of the striking things about American politics these days is the numbing pace of events.

On Friday, Americans learned Special Counsel Robert Mueller had filed the first indictments in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. On Sunday, U.S. commandos captured one of the prime suspects in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. Monday saw Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a longtime associate indicted on 12 counts that included tax fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. It was also revealed that Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser and political wannabe George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying about contacts with representatives of Russia.

The following day, New York City suffered a deadly terrorist attack committed by an Uzbek immigrant who pledged allegiance to ISIS. On the legislative front, last-minute wrangling forced House Republicans to delay by a day the long-awaited rollout of their tax-reform proposal.

Through this hectic period, Americans were subjected to a steady stream of angry presidential tweets and even an impromptu news conference that contributed to their growing weariness. Many Americans desperately want less outrage and more progress in their politics. But the constant tumult is obscuring the reality that, in important areas, some progress is being made.

Last week, for example, the House passed the Senate’s budget resolution, different in important ways from the earlier-approved House version. Rather than pinging versions of the budget resolution back and forth with the upper chamber, GOP representatives accepted the Senate version, setting up the reconciliation procedures the Senate needs to pass tax reform with 51 votes. Even most Freedom Caucus members helped move things along, apparently deciding for once not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Despite Wednesday’s delay of the tax-reform rollout, Republicans may be grasping that maintaining control of Congress requires actually accomplishing things.

Then there’s Friday’s announcement of the second consecutive quarter of 3% annualized economic growth. After seven years of anemic recovery, the Trump administration’s decision to ease the nation’s regulatory burden, combined with new energy policies and the promise of lower corporate tax rates, has increased confidence and contributed to a 20% jump in the Standard & Poor’s 500 since Election Day.

Both the capture of the Benghazi suspect and the Tuesday attack showed the president is right to say America is at war with radical Islamic terrorism and to prosecute that war rather than pull back from it. Mr. Trump has unleashed the military against ISIS and supports a continued American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan—though it would be better if his tweeted response to the terrorist murders in New York City did not include an attack on Sen. Chuck Schumer.

And for now, cooler heads have prevailed in the Trump team’s response to the Mueller investigation. The White House lawyer handling the Russian investigation was correct to say, “Nothing about recent events or any of these actions of the special counsel has altered the president’s determination to support the special counsel” because Mr. Trump “has no concerns in terms of any impact . . . on his campaign or on the White House.”

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Yet despite the improving economy, the president’s job approval rating in the Real Clear Politics average of polls is dismal: 39.3% favorable to 56.2% unfavorable, a net unfavorable of 16.9 points. The contrast with the country’s actual situation suggests disapproval of Mr. Trump often stems more from his personal style than from objective economic or foreign-policy conditions. His tweets and verbal attacks exhaust voters and demonstrate a lack of focus on important issues, diminishing his support.

Yet here’s something interesting: The Oct. 26 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that put Mr. Trump’s approval at the lowest level of his presidency also found Democrats leading Republicans on the 2018 generic congressional vote by only 7 points, 48% to 41%. That’s below the polling margins Democrats enjoyed in 2006 and Republicans led by in 2010, the last two elections when the party out of power retook the House. The discrepancy between the president’s 17-point net unfavorable and the GOP’s 7-point generic ballot deficit suggests that not all the president’s disfavor rubs off on Republicans.

Fewer tweets and a more presidential demeanor might give Americans some much-desired calm and allow the Trump administration’s often ignored accomplishments to shine through. In the 10th month of his presidency, it’s fair to ask whether Mr. Trump can exercise even minimal self-control. If he can’t, there will be a high price to pay—for him, and ultimately for the party he leads.

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