Donald Trump’s formula for winning reelection is the same as his formula for winning at everything else: Capitilize on a valuable inheritance, and keep a segment of the public indoctrinated into your cult of personality.
More precisely, the president needs to maintain the growing economy he inherited from his predecessor, and retain the admiration of enough Republican and non-college-educated white voters to hold the rust-belt swing states.
Two-hundred days in, Trump is meeting his first objective, but not his second. And that should cause some consternation in Bedminster this week — after all, if the president’s base is crumbling amid a rising stock market and falling unemployment rate, what will keep it from collapsing when and if the economy stalls or backslides?
Before saying more about Trump’s hypothetical, future woes, let’s take stock of the president’s actual, present ones. Here are the numbers that should be putting grease on Steve Bannon’s brow this morning: 36.6, 71, and 59.
That first figure is Trump’s current approval rating in FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls — and, also, the lowest approval rating that the president has ever posted in that site’s model.
A new CNN poll finds Trump standing an inch higher, but still significantly beneath his immediate predecessors, at this point in their presidencies.
The second figure, 71, is the percentage of Republicans who approve of the president in a new Investor’s Business Daily poll. As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes, that’s lower than Barack Obama’s approval ever dipped among Democrats in any high-quality poll. Just one month ago, the IBD survey showed Trump retaining 83 percent support among GOP voters.
The president does enjoy over 80 percent Republican support in CNN’s poll — but the network also finds that the percentage of GOP voters who strongly approve of their president has fallen from 73 in February to (grim figure No. 3) 59 this week.
And those numbers may actually overstate the resilience of Trump’s support. As the mogul’s presidency has unfolded, Republican self-identification has declined in Gallup’s polling. Thus, Trump’s standing with “Republicans” in surveys may actually be inflated, since some GOP voters who disapprove of him are now telling pollsters that they’re “independents.”
What’s more, Trump is losing ground with another core constituency: white voters without college degrees. A Quinnipiac poll released last week found that the president is underwater with the demographic, for the first time since taking office — 50 percent of white, working-class voters disapproved of Trump, while a mere 43 percent stood by their billionaire.
CNN’s numbers aren’t quite so ugly, but the poll still testifies to the same trend: In February, Trump boasted “strong” approval from 47 percent of non-college-educated whites; now, that figure is 35 percent. The IBD survey, meanwhile, shows the president’s approval among low-income voters in free fall. Last month, 40 percent of those earning between $30,000 and $50,000 backed the president; today, just 27 percent do.
In the context of all these other findings, the single grimmest poll result for Trump may be this: In CNN’s survey, 53 percent of Americans said things in the country are “going well.”
Which is to say: Trump has managed to become a historically reviled president at a time when the economy is doing relatively well, and a majority of Americans believe that to be the case.
It’s difficult to say how, precisely, Trump has achieved this feat. The president has provided the public with an array of discrete reasons to dislike him. One potential culprit, his administration’s comical dishonesty, seems to be wearing on even his staunchest defenders. Among voters who approve of Trump’s job performance, only 51 percent say they trust most (or all) of what they hear from the White House. Among the public as a whole, the percentage is 24.
There’s also some evidence that Trump’s decision to back draconian Medicaid cuts cost him with his low-income supporters, while his failure to shepherd a health-care bill through Congress hurt him with others.
Regardless, the president’s historic unpopularity could have significant implications for our politics, well before 2020. For one thing, as NBC News notes, there is a strong correlation between a president’s approval rating and his party’s fortunes in midterm elections.
For another, Trump’s ability to keep congressional Republicans cooperative on legislation — and, more critically, complacement about his White House’s audacius corruption — could be compromised, should his support among GOP voters continue to dip.
Murmurs about potential primary challenges to Trump in 2020 have already grown audible. A new poll from American Research Group finds John Kasich leading Trump by 12 points in a hypothetical, 2020 GOP primary showdown in the “drug-infested den” of New Hampshire.
All that said, there are some bright spots for the president. Trump’s approval rating remains anomalously high in battleground House districts, according to polling from Vox and SurveyMonkey; the Democratic Party’s approval rating remains abysmal; and the entire playing field of American politics remains tilted in the GOP’s favor (thanks to Republican gerrymandering and the disproportionate power of tiny rural states in the Senate).
Still, given the president’s myriad liabilities, a well-timed recession would almost certinaly ovewhelm the GOP’s structural advantages and capsize Trump’s presidency next November. And, as of this writing, the House Freedom Caucus is working hard to engineer such a downturn.