People don’t like President Trump.
I’m not just talking about the bubble-dwelling East Coast elite, hippies, Pajama Boys, free-range parents, or sandal-wearing, arugula-eating, latte-sipping socialists with velvet paintings of Bernie Sanders.
I’m talking about the millions of other Americans who’ve had it with the president.
Trump has always been unpopular, but in recent weeks his numbers have taken a decided turn for the worse. Last month an ABC/Washington Post survey had his approval rating at 38 percent, which looked to some like an outlier. But over the past week, three respected pollsters (CNN, Quinnipiac, and Marist) also showed the president’s numbers below 40 percent. In each there’s been a precipitous 3 to 6 point drop for Trump from just the month before. All three polling organizations also give Democrats double-digit leads in the generic congressional ballot, which is a key indicator of where midterm elections might be headed.
Some have suggested this drop-off could be fallout from Trump’s petulant behavior after Senator John McCain died. Others have speculated that it’s a result of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen (the other one), pleading guilty in federal court, and Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, being found guilty of tax evasion, among other felony offenses.
There is, however, a simpler theory: A lot of people just don’t like Donald Trump.
Now I know we’ve been inundated with stories over the past year of voters (primarily white) in diners, coffee shops, and bars in Midwestern locales expressing their continued support for the president, saying that he has their back, speaks his mind, and is shaking things up.
But these people are not and never have been a majority of Americans. Indeed, the most underappreciated aspect of American politics today — and over the past 20 or so months — is that Trump is a deeply unpopular president who inspires far more loathing among the electorate than he does love.
What makes this so remarkable is that it’s happening at a time of peace and prosperity. In the second quarter, the GDP expanded at its best rate in four years. Unemployment is historically low and even wage growth seems to be picking up. America is not fighting any major wars (just its usual retinue of minor wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan) and is secure at home. Yet none of it is helping Trump. According to an analysis by Bloomberg News, there’s never been a president whose job approval so consistently lagged behind public opinion about the state of the economy. .
And it’s not just that Trump is disliked — half the country despises him. Polls consistently have shown that the percentage of Americans who most strongly disapprove of Trump has hovered around 50 percent for much of his presidency.
In the near-term, it means that Trump is more than just an albatross around the neck of congressional Republicans — he is a rage-inducing symbol who has and will continue to stoke Democratic ire and bring the party’s voters out in record numbers.
In the longer-term, however, Trump’s unpopularity could have more fatal consequences.
We know that Trump is incapable of changing his behavior. When you combine that with the fact that even a good economy isn’t helping, it seems unlikely that there’s anything he can do to increase his favorabilities. If Trump’s very presence in the White House is contributing to Republicans losing elections (which has already happened and stands a good chance of continuing this fall), then how do congressional Republicans benefit by maintaining their slavish support for him?
The obvious answer is that Republican voters still strongly support Trump. But if that’s the case and the GOP still loses control of the House, and maybe the Senate, in November, Republican rank-and-file love plus $2.25 will get you a ride on the T . . . but not much else.
It certainly won’t protect Republicans when Trump is on the ballot in 2020.
The political calculus for many in the GOP has been to stick with Trump, no matter what — if only to keep his loyal supporters happy. There’s no question that Trump has directly benefited from the moral cowardice of his fellow Republicans. But with a president who inspires this much distaste among the electorate, that political calculus is vulnerable to change. No president this unpopular, even one who enjoys strong backing among party voters, can expect that kind of unquestioned support to last forever.
Considering the political and legal dangers currently hanging over the White House, that should be causing plenty of agita for the president. But for the rest of America, it might be the last best hope that the Americans who so rightfully dislike this administration will one day be able to celebrate its demise.