If it’s not already obvious by now, President Trump’s tangled, mangled and bungled response to Charlottesville reminds us that his is a presidency run on gut and instinct and fealty to his base. There’s no desire to reach out – or reach across – or unite. It’s to incite and excite those who already support him. That strategy won him the White House – despite the consensus conventional wisdom that it wouldn’t. As such, he’s not particularly interested in listening to those who tell him that this strategy doesn’t work so well for governing.
It is become clear, however, that even that base is getting weary and wary of his approach. The latest polls show a softening in his support from GOP voters. The latest Marist poll found “his job performance rating has dropped among strong Republicans from 91 percent in June to 79 percent now.” Gallup found Trump’s approval ratings among Republicans under 80 percent (79 percent) for the first time in his presidency. Other polls, both private and public are showing the same slippage. To be sure, Republicans are not abandoning the president. But, they are not nearly as engaged as they were in the earliest days of his administration.
Trump’s instincts are to win them back with stuff that worked for him on the campaign trail. Earlier this week (just a day after the attacks in Charlottesville), the Trump campaign released an ad that took aim at two groups that have been tried and true motivators for his voters: the fake news media and liberal Democrats. Next week, he heads to Arizona for the other thing that he hopes keep his base and his own ego sated – a campaign style rally. There he can revel in the applause and the adoration that he doesn’t get in Washington, DC. He can be his unrestrained, Trump-iest self.
But, it’s this style – the tweets, the attacks, the off-the-cuff, off-message rants – that is hurting him, even among his own base. The Marist poll found that 75 percent of Americans – and 51 percent of Republicans - think he’s “temperamental.” Almost 75 percent of Americans – including 46 percent of Republicans - find his Twitter habit to be “reckless and distracting.” One-third of Republicans admit to being “embarrassed” by Trump’s conduct.
Yet, despite all this, and even as his overall job approvals have sunk to the sub-40 territory, he has relatively decent approval ratings on his handling of the economy. For example, the most recent CNN poll found that while he was deeply underwater on his overall job approval rating (-15), he was only viewed slightly more negatively than positively on his handling of the economy (-4).
There are two ways to look at this disconnect. One is that Trump is being judged not on the strength of the economy or his handling of it, but on his deficiencies as president and a leader. This suggests that no matter how low the unemployment rate or high the stock market, Trump won’t see a bump in his overall job approval ratings.
The other, is that if he could just stay disciplined, he can “pivot” to the one area where he’s got room to grow. For example, in the Marist poll, Trump’s overall job approval among independents was just 37 percent, yet almost half of independent voters (47 percent) said they thought the economy had been “strengthened” by Trump’s decisions as president.
This, of course, is why the White House and congressional Republicans are so desperate to move on to taxes and infrastructure. It at least gives them a chance to try and take credit for voters’ improving perceptions of the economy. Of course, this assumes that Congress can accomplish either of these things before the midterm elections. It also assumes that the president, who was supposed to make yesterday about infrastructure and not Neo-Nazi's, can ever get on point. Or stay there.
But, was Trump’s performance this week the last straw, even for voters looking to give him that benefit of the doubt? The short answer is that we simply don’t know. The path is littered with politicians, pundits and pontificators who declared Trump’s candidacy all but DOA throughout the 2016 campaign. If the Access Hollywood, Judge Curiel, Khizr Khan, and "Mexican rapists" didn’t derail him, it’s hard to feel comfortable saying that this will.
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