While running for president, Donald Trump promised to deliver universal health care without cutting Medicaid; lamented that America wastes trillions of dollars on doomed military adventures instead of investing in its schools and infrastructure; decried the influence of foreign governments and “international bankers” on our political system, while savaging Hillary Clinton for her ties to Goldman Sachs; bewailed the fact that Clinton was allowed to run for president while under FBI investigation; assured the “forgotten men and women” of rural America that they would be “forgotten no longer”; predicted that his election would restore the confidence of America’s allies; and explained that his supreme deal-making skills would make him a master of the legislative process — unlike typical politicians, who are “all talk, no action.”
Since winning the presidency, Trump has pushed a health-care bill that would cut Medicaid and increase the ranks of the uninsured by 24 million; proposed a budget that would raise military spending by $54 billion while slashing funding for education and transportation; appointed five Goldman Sachs alums to top positions in his White House; picked a foreign agent of Turkey’s Islamist government as his top national security adviser; acknowledged that the FBI is investigating his presidential campaign; called for gutting programs that provide job training and development to rural America; gotten into diplomatic spats with Mexico, Australia, and the United Kingdom; and failed to pass a single piece of major legislation, while the one bill he’s put some muscle behind appears poised for defeat.
Given the discrepancies between Trump’s promises and his actions — along with his near-constant affronts to democratic norms and common decency — you might think that a lot of Trump voters would have come to regret the events of November 8.
If so, you would be wrong — and the media would bear some responsibility for your mistake.
The months since the election have produced no small number of “regretful Trump voter” stories. And these narratives have grown even more prominent as news outlets have sought to dramatize the gap between the health-care plan Trump described on the stump, and the one he is trying to push through Congress.
But while such “#Trumpgrets” do exist, they are aberrations: Only 3 percent of Trump voters regret their decision — and fewer than 1 percent wish they had voted for Hillary Clinton last fall — according to a new poll from Penn State’s McCourtney Institute of Democracy and YouGov.
What’s more, the poll doesn’t find all that much ambivalence among the 97 percent of non-regretful Trump backers. When these voters were asked, “If you could send a message to President Trump, what would it be?” most responded with variations on “stay strong,” “keep it up,” or “stay the course.” Only seven of the 327 (non-regretful) Trump voters surveyed offered a sharply critical message about the president’s performance.
Penn State political scientists Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman summarized their findings in a Washington Post column:
While his governance has galvanized opposition groups and his overall approval level remains low by historical standards, his electoral base is not only intact but enthusiastic and energized, providing Trump with a significant base of power. Those who fail to recognize this may find themselves underestimating his capabilities in governance in the same way that many underestimated his candidacy.
A new Harvard-Harris Poll lends further credence to that conclusion.
President Trump’s baseless allegation that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones has earned him rebukes from the FBI, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and such conservative stalwarts as Bill O’Reilly and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
And yet, per Harvard-Harris, 59 percent of Republicans say they believe Trump’s claim.
From all this, one might conclude that, while Trump has an unusually low ceiling of support, he also enjoys an unusually high floor. After all, if the past two months of betrayed promises, ill-tempered tweets, judicial defeats, and legislative impotence haven’t cost Trump significant support, what would?
But this view is probably misguided. Ordinary voters pay very little attention to the goings-on in Washington. And for all of Trump’s radical proposals, he’s yet to actually do much of anything that immediately hurts the average Republican voter. Meanwhile, the growing economy that he inherited from Obama is chugging along nicely, providing relatively low unemployment and decent wage gains.
Thus, the real test of the Trump coalition won’t come until the president actually enacts one of his many plans to hurt the rural working class — and/or until the economy takes a turn for the worse.
Democrats can win without regretful Trump voters in 2020. And, if the unemployment rate is still less than 5 percent in November of that year — while the uninsured rate in rural, midwestern counties isn’t significantly higher than it is today — Team Blue may very well need to win without them.
But those are big ifs. We’re still in the morning hours of the Trump presidency: His voters have made their bed, but they haven’t had to sleep in it.