By Jennifer Rubin
The Washington Post
President Donald Trump’s approval polling remains dreadful by historical standards. In the latest Marist poll, he draws only 39 percent approval, 49 disapproval (statistically insignificant from a month ago, when his numbers were 38 percent/51 percent). Gallup shows him with 40 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval (up, but not dramatically, from his low point). Overall, his RealClearPolitics average is 41.4 approval/51.6 percent disapproval. All this follows confirmation of his Supreme Court pick, now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, and a show of force against Syria. There are a few takeaways from this.
First, Trump is such a polarizing figure, even when compared with Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, that he is unlikely ever to rise above his election total (46.1 percent of the vote). While the press and political insiders inspect day-to-day events for hints as to whether this will help or hurt Trump, many voters (especially those disturbed by his election) do not. Even a significant event — such as the Syria missiles strikes — may have only minimal impact on ordinary voters, if not followed by a dramatic policy change.
Second, while Breitbart News and the rest of the alt-right crowd threaten to go after Trump if he fires Stephen K. Bannon, it is not clear that Trump will dump him altogether. For now, Trump seems content to belittle him and take away job responsibilities. Breitbart et al. will have a hard time rallying the base to the cry of “Give Bannon more to do!” Even if Bannon did get booted, it’s not clear that Trump’s hard-core followers would be upset. Trump has fired plenty of staff (Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Michael T. Flynn) without much fuss from his supporters.
Third, Trump does risk losing “Main Street” Republicans who held their noses to vote for him. These voters knew that they didn’t want Hillary Clinton as president, although they were wary of Trump. They figured they would give him a shot to perform and make good on GOP agenda items. That, in essence, was House Speaker Paul Ryan’s, R-Wisconsin, rationale for supporting him — Trump would deliver on the GOP wish list. If, at the end of a couple of years, Trump still has not delivered on health-care reform, job and wage growth or tax reform, these voters may sit home in 2018 and look for alternatives in 2020.
So what, if anything, will cause the floor to drop out from under Trump?
We can think of only two events, both largely beyond his control. First, the potential for an economic setback should keep the Trump team up at night. He won with the pretense that he is a consummate businessman who would know how to make Americans successful, just like he did for himself. If he cannot do even that, voters may figure that they might as well go with steadier, more experienced and less ideologically erratic leaders. Second, the Russia investigation hangs like a cloud over him. Reports suggesting that British intelligence officials have evidence of “collusion” should be taken with a grain of salt. They do remind us, however, that U.S. intelligence agencies are not alone in their hunt for proof of Russian meddling. The presence of so many witnesses (Manafort, Flynn, Carter Page) who might provide information to the intelligence community could provide critical evidence. In other words, if Trump and his cohorts have lied, misled or concealed evidence of ties to Russia and/or cooperated with Russian officials, we think this would shake loose even devoted followers. Then again, if that happens, Trump would have bigger problems than keeping the alt-right in his tent.