Feehery: The legitimacy of President Trump

Is this president legitimate?

That is the central question that has engulfed Washington, radicalized the left and split the Republican establishment. 

The attacks on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE’s legitimacy are not unique to him. President Obama faced the same questions from the right over his birthplace, President George W. Bush’s controversial Supreme Court-delivered election victory vexed the left, and President Clinton’s Whitewater saga plus the fact he only got 43 percent of the vote raised questions about his legitimacy after the 1992 election.

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But questions about Trump and his election have taken on a whole new level of vitriol and absurdity for three reasons. 

First, nobody in Washington thought that Trump had a chance to win. And that included pretty much everybody on the Trump campaign. How can somebody who everybody assumed was going to lose win, unless there was some sort of conspiracy involved? 

Second, Trump ran on a promise to smash the political establishment. He was and continues to be someone who plays by his own political rules. His hair is not properly blown dry. He doesn’t use pollsters. He campaigned against the Iraq War, against unfettered immigration, against bad trade deals, against political correctness. He used and uses language that the solons in Washington find offensive. To the voters in the heartland, that campaign style was a feature, not a bug, but to the Washington elite, it was and continues to be disqualifying. 

Third, the president himself enjoys throwing tons of gasoline on an already blazing fire. Trump may not be guilty of collusion, but his actions, words and rants have made him seem guilty, at least to the left-leaning press, the small but hearty contingent of Never Trumpers and the Democrats. His joint press conference and private chats with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThere are poor ideas, bad ones and Facebook's Libra Trump has considered firing official who reported whistleblower complaint to Congress: report Broadcast, cable news networks to preempt regular programming for Trump impeachment coverage MORE, his daily Twitter attacks on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE, the mob-like language he used to describe the rat Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenDC bars to open early for impeachment mania Ex-Trump campaign official testifies Stone gave updates on WikiLeaks email dumps Broadcast, cable news networks to preempt regular programming for Trump impeachment coverage MORE, and all the weird meetings that happened between Russian operatives and fringe characters in the Trump orbit gave ample impression that there must be some there there somewhere. 

But there is an innocent explanation that is mostly borne out by what we have seen from the excerpts of the Mueller report. Trump was a political newcomer who didn’t campaign the way normal politicians campaigned, didn’t know the Russians were trying to help him win, and didn’t understand how dirty the political game could really get.

I have always believed that Trump won the White House fair and square by coming up with a superior message, by focusing on kitchen table issues, by staying on offense and by offering strong, uncompromising leadership to voters who desperately wanted it.

And let’s not forget how terrible a candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE was and what a lousy campaign she ran. The Russians didn’t steal her economic plan for the heartland, because she never came up with one. 

I didn’t always agree with the president’s rhetoric and I disagree with him on some of his policies. We need legal immigration in this country, if we want our economy to continue to grow, for example. But as our nation’s president, he deserves our respect and some measure of deference. 

For me, this president has always been legitimate. And I admire his devotion to his campaign promises, no matter how unlikely they are to be achieved. (Mexico is not going to pay for the wall.)

Hopefully, we can now turn the page on this first chapter of the Trump presidency and move on to dealing with issues that the American people really do care about. How do we fix our crumbling infrastructure? What do we do about high drug prices? How do we make college more affordable and more accessible to normal folks who can’t afford to cheat their way in? And can we find common ground with a president we may not like but have to admit won the job fair and square?

These are the questions that House Democrats need to start asking themselves if they want to have any chance to keep their majority.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: What Republicans must do to adapt to political realignment Feehery: How Republicans can win back the suburbs John Feehery: Mutiny on the Bounty MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).