The Mueller probe. Stormy Daniels. The longest government shutdown in history. Blaming “both sides” for violence following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. And, most recently, racist tweets telling four congresswomen of color — all US citizens — to “go back” to their countries.
To many on the left, they were flashpoints in history that would spell doom — or at least impeachment proceedings — for President Trump. But in New Hampshire, a swing state that Hillary Clinton won by one of the slimmest of margins in 2016, a recent survey shows Trump to be as popular as ever among Republicans. And, in interviews, local Republican operatives said Trump’s consistent popularity in the party is driven by a healthy economy and a stream of controversies that have, altogether, amounted to noise.
Clinton defeated Trump in the Granite State by three-tenths of a percentage point in 2016. So while Trump remains the underdog to win the state next year, a University of New Hampshire/CNN poll released Tuesday showed the state’s voters gave him the highest job approval ratings of his presidency, with 45 percent approving and 51 percent disapproving.
“Every major controversy was supposed to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but that doesn’t seem to happen,” said UNH pollster Andy Smith. “And until that happens, I am not going to believe it ever will happen.”
The survey, which was taken July 8-15 — including two days following Trump’s weekend tweets on the congresswomen — showed Republicans more on board with Trump than ever.
Eighty-six percent of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing, and the president has a 79 percentage point lead over the competition, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, in a New Hampshire Republican primary. Both numbers are all-time highs for Trump in the survey.
In addition, 70 percent of New Hampshire Republicans surveyed in the poll say that Trump is an above-average president, with 28 percent saying that he is one of the best presidents ever.
And New Hampshire is hardly an outlier. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll put the president’s nationwide approval rating at 45 percent. One year ago, the same survey showed his job approval was also at 45 percent nationwide.
Former New Hampshire attorney general Tom Rath, a leading Republican strategist and Trump critic, said the president’s consistent popularity in the GOP makes sense in the broader electoral and economic context.
“Despite all the noise, there is a growing acceptance of Trump among Republicans given that he faces no intraparty rivals and there is economic prosperity,” said Rath. “These polls are an accurate reflection of a Republican mindset that it is better to go all in with Trump right now, even if it means paying the price for the embarrassing things he says.”
On Sunday morning, in a series of tweets, Trump said four Democrats in Congress “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three of the four women he referenced, including Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston, were born in the United States. The other has been a US citizen for decades.
Some Republicans, such as Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, denounced the president’s tweets. But, for the most part, Republican leaders have been muted in their responses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CBS News that “the president is not a racist,” but that “everybody ought to tone down their rhetoric.”
Former White House political director and New Hampshire Republican strategist Dave Carney described it as “the little-boy-cried-wolf syndrome. Every day there is some political crisis on cable news involving the president, and then the next day life goes on and it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
“Over time, the outrage machine has lost its audience,” said Carney. “And when everyone — from both sides — calls everyone else racist, it means that when someone does actually do or say something racist it doesn’t get the proper attention anymore.”
Democrats point out that polls cannot capture the level of intensity within the Democratic base. In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats not only took control of the US House, but the party also turned out at historic levels for primaries.
In New Hampshire, voter turnout for the 2018 Democratic primary was 30 percent higher than the previous record set in 1992.
Yet in New Hampshire, where Republican Governor Chris Sununu is both a Trump supporter and very popular, at least one prominent Democrat is worried that Democrats haven’t figured out the best way to challenge Trump.
“There is real anger in America toward the elites,” said former representative Dick Swett, a Democrat. “And every time Trump says or does something no politician would say, no matter how awful, a lot of Americans see it as putting a thumb in the eye of the system and the elite. Unless Democrats figure out how to change that dynamic, I fear he will win again.”
Sununu on Tuesday declined to characterize Trump’s tweets as racist when asked by WMUR, a New Hampshire television station.