Friday, June 9, 2017

Listen: Trump's unpopular, but when will that start to matter?

Below I have included a screenshot of the current state of President Donald J. Trump's approval and disapproval ratings among all voters, as aggregated and weighted by FiveThirtyEight.  Notice that he began with about 44% approval (after a noisy few initial days that were all over the place), and that he has now dropped to 38% approval.  That's a loss of a point per month.

Other polling trackers generally agree: RealClearPolitics, HuffPo.  Trump is losing support -- and those people that still support him are increasingly less enthusiastic about it, which is also important.  Intensity of support is significant, and he has about half as many "strongly supports" as he once did.

Is this likely to change?  Could the trend reverse itself?

Well, sure... but not spontaneously.  He needs visible and real success: some major legislation that people like (they despise the AHCA), a big foreign policy victory, etc.  Or he needs to dramatically change how he is conducting himself as president.  Neither of those eventualities appears even remotely likely at this point, and the slow decline of Trump's numbers might make them even less likely.

There is precedent for recovery.  Clinton had terrible early numbers, and he ended up firing a bunch of people and doing a big reset.  And Reagan went from 51% to 67% approval early in his term.  But they learned and changed.  Bitter and besieged septuagenarians who can't tolerate disagreement aren't ideally placed for personal growth.

Plus, let's not forget that everything is pretty okay right now.  We're in the middle of the longest economic recovery in American history, the number of uninsured is at record lows, there haven't been any major foreign policy disasters.  Eventually something is going to go wrong!

So while the future is an undiscovered country, I don't see Trump's numbers getting much better.

But here's the thing... by and large, Republican legislators are sticking by him!  With a few marginal excepts from people in unsafe seats, they excuse horrific misbehavior from the president, defend his crazy words, and agree to most things he wants.  When is his unpopularity going to start to matter?

To begin with, it's worth noting that it matters a lot already.  The Republican-run House and Republican-run Senate are both engaged in active and intense investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, even if they've adopted the fig leaf of also purportedly investigating "improper unmasking" and other sops to the right.  These investigations are being treated so seriously that the chair of House Intel, Devin Nunes, actually was forced to publicly step back from leading that inquiry once he began to appear too partisan.  That's right: the Republican head of a committee had to publicly commit to giving up control of an investigation because it looked like he was too eager to help the Republican president.  And we're only 134 days into the Trump presidency!  He hasn't made it one half of one year yet!

But okay, I know what you mean.  Why do they keep defending the indefensible?

The answer is very short: they want to get re-elected.  It's not even "party over country," it's "myself over country."  And it's kind of hard to even criticize them for that attitude.

Yes, I know that we should demand and expect our legislators to act in their country's best interest above all.  But in the view of many ideological Republicans, it's in the best interest of America for them to pass their legislative agenda.  Tax cuts, slashing banking and environmental regulation, conservative Supreme Court justices, and reducing American international engagement are things that they think the country desperately needs, and so any damage that Trump does while they're passing those things... well, it's just worth it.

Plus the more realpolitik commentator might point out that our constitutional system was designed for legislators to act selfishly for their own advancement.  We should hope for better and fight for better, but not be surprised when we don't get it.  As Madison said: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

So when will they really start to break with Trump?  Well, they'll probably turn on him when his antics threaten their agenda and/or their re-election.  Right now, it's only marginal Republicans at risk: folks in seats that aren't solidly red.  If Trump's numbers (which have a direct and large effect on generic Republican numbers) get down to 32%, then he's going to pose a threat to safe Republican seats.  Then... well, they might need to recalibrate.

Other possibilities might include Trump deciding to triangulate to the left, like Clinton did to the right, and threatening the GOP agenda.  But that seems unlikely, if only because he doesn't seem to know or understand anything about policy -- so how could he make changes to it?  And of course, I honestly do believe that most Republican legislators are patriots who care about America: if it comes down to it -- treason or something they cannot explain away -- many of them will indeed put their country above the interests of their party and themselves.  Craven defenses of Trump notwithstanding, people like Kevin McCarthy or Paul Ryan do have their limits.

Reversion to the partisan mean ensures that we're likely to see that Trump's numbers begin to slow in their decline.  Can we guess when he might hit the Republican danger zone of 32%?

Nothing major and headline-grabbing goes wrong in the country, Trump avoids big scandals, and he manages to get some decent things done.  He shuts up a little bit more, maybe because Melania's presence calms him.  So he loses approval at half the current rate: half a point per month.

When does he hit 32%?

One year from now, in June of 2018.  In plenty of time for midterm elections.

Oh, and then... well, if Democrats were able to get control of the House, they'd get subpoena power.  They could subpoena internal memos, instructions to subordinates, the draft documents of the Muslim ban... Everything that lackluster Republican oversight is ignoring and the administration is hiding, the Democrats could demand and make public.

There are five hundred and fourteen days left before midterm elections.  Let's keep making them count, and keep dragging Trump's numbers down.  The sails are set and the course is laid out... keep the helm steady and keep working.





Resist and persist.

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