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Hanging on to Trump’s rabid base won’t be enough for Republicans

  • Author: Jennifer Rubin
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 15
  • Published August 15

President Donald Trump arrives at a rally, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

After the Helsinki debacle, 11 days of the Paul Manafort trial, contradictory statements on the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, numerous obnoxious and racist tweets, never-ending verbal duels with accusers (including past employees) and, for good measure, a senseless trade war, we shouldn’t be surprised that President Donald Trump’s approval rating is slipping somewhat. Gallup has it down to 39 percent; Quinnipiac has it at 41 percent.

The Quinnipiac poll numbers highlight how poorly Americans think of him:

"Only 31 percent of American voters like President Donald Trump as a person, while 59 percent dislike him, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released (Tuesday). ... By a smaller 54 - 43 percent margin, American voters dislike President Trump's policies.

“Voters disapprove 54 - 41 percent of the job Trump is doing as president, including 48 percent who disapprove strongly. Another 30 percent approve strongly. The Trump Administration is not doing enough to help middle class Americans, voters say 58 - 38 percent.”

Americans don't need to hear a tape of Trump saying the n-word to know he "does not treat people of color with the same amount of respect he affords white people" - by a margin of 54 percent to 39 percent. Moreover, "American voters say 54 - 37 percent that 'President Trump has emboldened people who hold racist beliefs to express those beliefs publicly.' "

As for the media, Trump strikes out there, too. ("The news media is an important part of democracy, 65 percent of American voters say, while 26 percent of voters say the media is the enemy of the people.") On Russia, 55 percent say he is too weak, while only 36 percent say his attitude toward Russia is "about right." Unfortunately for Trump, "It is never acceptable for a presidential campaign to obtain information on a political opponent from a hostile foreign power, voters say 79 - 12 percent, including 69 - 19 percent among Republicans." And finally, special counsel Robert Mueller III is holding his own, with 51 percent saying he is doing a fair investigation and only 33 percent saying he is not.

Republicans operate in a different political universe. They approve of his job performance (83 percent) and actually like him (66 percent) - which makes one seriously question what attributes they find so attractive. (His vulgarity? His racism? His greed?) In the minds of Republicans, he is doing enough for the middle class (80 percent/16 percent) and the media is the "enemy of the people" (51 percent/36 percent). Sixty-eight percent of Republicans say he is tough enough on Russia, while 55 percent say Mueller is not conducting a fair investigation. The GOP has been thoroughly Trumpized and now resembles the right-wing, nativist parties of Europe.

This split in opinion between Republicans and everyone else is not a sustainable situation for a national party. Pew Research reported this year that "37% of registered voters identified as independents, 33% as Democrats and 26% as Republicans. ... The 8-percentage-point Democratic advantage in leaned partisan identification is wider than at any point since 2009, and a statistically significant shift since 2016." You cannot win national elections with a narrow base of support. (Quinnipiac's pollster aptly describes Trump's political situation: "The base is hanging in and the rest aren't buying in.")

We'll see in November how much of Trump's unpopularity weighs down Republicans. However, it doesn't bode well for Trump in 2020.

"The warning light for supporters of President Trump should be his seeming inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to expand his base," writes pollster Charlie Cook. "It would seem to be advisable for someone who captured the office with just 46 percent of the popular vote, 2.1 percentage points and 2.9 million votes less than his opponent had."

Trump cares only about the people who love him, and he needs their approval like a drug addict needs his next fix. He therefore goes back incessantly to the well of base-pleasing lines and themes. The base gets more and more fired up; everyone else gets more and more horrified. Cook cautions: "Politics is supposed to be an exercise in addition, not subtraction or division." Right now all Trump is doing is seeing how many groups (women, nonwhites, college-educated voters) he can drive away from the GOP.

Democrats shouldn't start measuring the Oval Office drapes, however. They will not beat Trump in 2020 with another weak candidate who suffers from political scandal. They won't win with a candidate who cannot dominate in a side-by side face-off. (They need someone who can treat Trump with the disdain he deserves and who can expertly wield facts to unnerve him and reveal him as a liar.) Democrats will not beat him with someone easily characterized as a far-left radical.

The search for a plausible presidential nominee is no trivial task. A party lacking an obvious candidate whose views are mainstream, who is battle-tested in presidential politics and who has sufficient toughness to take on Trump risks losing yet again to an entirely unfit GOP nominee. As bad as Trump’s numbers are, he will win again unless the Democrats or independents find someone better.

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