Trump has created a ‘very low bar environment’ and that’s not a bad move, says strategist

  • Audiences and commentators were largely positive or neutral in their reception of Trump's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, holding back on the more familiar onslaught of media criticism.
  • This is because Trump set the standard low enough that he no longer has to do much to impress — and that's actually a pretty good strategy, said Pippa Malmgren, a former White House advisor.
  • Still, commentators at many major news outlets were quick to point out the inaccuracies in some of the president's statements.
President Donald Trump applauds while delivering a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.
Win McNamee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump applauds while delivering a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.

Donald Trump's brash approach to the presidency is something that his fans love and his detractors hate — but one part of his demeanor may be paying off more broadly, one former White House advisor said Friday.

Audiences and commentators were largely positive or neutral in their reception of Trump's State of the Union Speech on Tuesday, holding back on the onslaught of media criticism that often follows a major appearance by the president. Observers described Trump as "presidential" and "measured", among other fairly generic but positive descriptors.

This is because he's set the standard so low that he no longer has to do much to impress — and that's actually a pretty good strategy, said Pippa Malmgren, a former George W. Bush advisor and current advisor to the U.K. government on Brexit. Malmgren is also the founder of London-based consultancy DRPM Group.

"Frankly, at this point, the bar is so low that if he doesn't swear or doesn't malign a minority group, that's considered a huge success," Malmgren told CNBC.

"He's created a very low bar environment, and in politics that's not completely stupid — because when expectations fall very, very low, it becomes easy to fulfill them. So it becomes arguably a management tool."

Still, despite the relatively muted response from anti-Trump camps to the speech, commentators at many major news outlets were quick to point out the inaccuracies in some of the president's statements. His supporters, meanwhile, lauded his repeated commitment to security, law enforcement and creating American jobs.

Asked if she thought Democrats would make inroads in the November midterm elections, Malmgren said: "Yes, I do think they will," although she questioned whether that would significantly affect the balance of power in Congress.

"International observers always consider the views of the people on the coastlines of America because that's who they know, but the middle is what matters," Malmgren said, highlighting America's partisan divide that is so frequently reinforced by geography. Many analysts attribute Trump's surprise win in November 2016 to a tendency by political analysts to ignore voters in vast parts of "middle America."

"I've just been in 'the middle' last week," Malmgren said, recounting visits to states including Colorado and Texas, "and there is overwhelming support for the president. In spite of some of the toxicity around how he speaks, they were willing to let that go for the substance of policy."

Trump's approval ratings picked up this month in a poll by Monmouth University in New Jersey that found that 42 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance. This is up 10 percent on Trump's all-time low approval rating of 32 percent last December.