WASHINGTON – Enough, already, with all the takeouts and think pieces about how President Donald Trump’s loyal base continues to support him. That’s neither surprising nor impressive – and it’s certainly not the point about this shameful and appalling presidency.
Also, it’s not entirely true. Trump won 46 percent of the popular vote in last November’s election. That’s less than Hillary Clinton’s 48 percent but means nevertheless that nearly half the country put its trust in a man who had already shown himself to be a liar, a buffoon, a demagogue and a self-proclaimed sexual harasser.
Earlier this week, Gallup reported Trump’s approval rating at 36 percent, with 60 percent of those polled disapproving of the job he’s doing. Since the advent of polling, no president has been so unpopular at this point in his tenure. Clearly, some who voted for him have had second thoughts. But most have not, and why, at this point, should anyone expect otherwise?
It might feel like six years, but it’s only been six months and change since Inauguration Day – far too soon for even Trump to have alienated everyone who trusted him with their hopes and dreams. Give him time. He’s working on it.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Trump has a solid base of about 35 percent of voters who will stick with him no matter what. Much of his base lives in small towns, rural areas, the South and the Rust Belt – which has inspired countless lazy op-eds about how the jaded sophisticates of the East and West Coasts are too smug and insular to have a clue about the “real America.”
Please. Just stop.
This country is riven by many fault lines, race and educational attainment being perhaps the most important. But no citizen’s America is any more “real” than anyone else’s. The voice of a laid-off West Virginia coal miner is no more authentic than that of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a Hollywood production assistant, an Upper West Side advertising executive or – and this may be shocking – an opinion writer for a mainstream news outlet. If people like me live in an elite, progressive “bubble,” it must be an awfully big one; indicators such as the popular vote suggest there are more Americans inside than out.
I accept that most Trump voters – those who were not heeding his campaign’s dog-whistle appeals to white supremacy and racial grievance – had a understandable motive: Frustrated with a political system that seems incapable of getting much of anything accomplished, they decided to lob in a grenade, blow it to smithereens and start over.
I get that. I get how Trump’s outrageous statements on Twitter and in campaign-style rallies sound fresh and encouraging to his diehard supporters, not vicious and loopy. Trump gets it, too, and that’s why I doubt anyone will ever be able to pry his smartphone from his dainty clutches. Some of his tweetstorms are primal screams from an insecure man who is in way over his head, but others are carefully crafted to show he is keeping the faith with those who elected him to break the rules.
But Trump is genuinely delusional about both his talents and his popularity. On Thursday, a day after he grudgingly signed the Russia sanctions bill, he tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”
Apparently he’s never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which Washington and Moscow came close to nuclear war. But why is he going out of his way to attack a Congress led by his own party? Senators, especially, do not take kindly to such abuse, as Trump should have learned from the health care vote. It might be different if he were a popular president. But he is not.
How long will Trump’s base stay with him? I don’t know, but clearly he’s worried. Even Rasmussen, the generally conservative survey that usually shows him as having more support than other pollsters detect, released a poll this week showing Trump’s approval below 40 percent for the first time. He makes laughable claims about having accomplished more than any other president in his first months because he knows his support will slowly leak away if he fails at his central promise, which is to get stuff done. Thus far he has been a failure.
Trump voters are not blind to that fact. And their patience won’t last forever.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.