There’s been some speculation recently that Donald Trump’s luck is finally running out and his support among Republicans is about to collapse. I don’t buy it.
There is almost no indication in a slew of post Charlottesville polls that President Trump’s supporters are on the verge of abandoning him. Indeed I was told by a Wisconsin based reporter this week that his support among Republicans has increased there. That makes total sense to me.
To understand why somewhere between 35-38% of Americans consistently approve of the job Mr Trump is doing you need to reframe the way you look at his voters. It’s not what they are for that matters, it’s what they are against. So it’s not that a third of US voters are fervently on the side of Donald Trump, what’s more relevant is that they are adamantly on the opposing side of a culture war that’s been brewing here since the 1980s.
Look at it like that and you can see why it doesn’t really matter what Mr Trump achieves or doesn’t achieve. He defies the normal metrics for success because his voters don’t so much support him for what he does as they adore him for what he’s against.
Trump is against the political establishment (the media, the Republican Party, political grandees like the Bushes and the Clintons), and change (which encompasses everything you had but fear you are losing), and he’s against the world (which has taken jobs and sent immigrants to take over America). You can trace the roots of this culture war back to Reagan’s moral majority, historians may even go back to the civic explosions of the 1960s.
If you believe America is engaged in a life or death battle over its identity, in which the past looks golden and the future looks, well brown-ish, then Trump sounds like he’s on your side. If you believe the forces driving that unwelcome change are the media and immigration, then Trump’s Arizona speech is music to your ears.
It explains why every long minute spent trashing the press makes perfect political sense.
Conservatives in the American heartland have long believed, with some justification, that they can’t get a fair hearing in America’s main stream press which they see as overwhelmingly coastal and liberal. They believe the liberal press has made it impossible for them to win elections.
In a poll out today by Quinnipiac University 80% of Republicans say they trust Trump more than the media. 80%. No wonder his favorite enemy is the fake news.
What this also means is that if Mr Trump continues to fail to rack up any major legislative achievements that would actually help his supporters, he, and they, have a built in excuse. In fact I’m hearing three different scapegoats.
Jerry, I’ll call him that, is a mild mannered African American in his early 70s from West Virginia. He grew up under segregation and it was to his family’s deep dismay that he voted for Trump last year. He believes Mr Trump understands that America needs more discipline, no more young men walking round with their jeans half way down their butts showing off their boxers, was how he described it to me.
Jerry hankers for a time when young men dressed well, behaved well and didn’t answer back to their elders. When I asked him if he’d be disappointed if Mr Trump failed to live up to his campaign promises of health care reform, tax reform and making American manufacturing great again, Jerry was clear. Mr Trump, he said, would probably never achieve any of those things for three reasons, the media, the Russia investigation, and the Republican Party.
But he didn’t even really care–those are details he said. What matters is that the President understands what America should be like.
Mr Trump himself has understood this, viscerally, all along. He realized the power of tapping into cultural anger. Remember back in January 2016 during the campaign when he said “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.” He knew he had no limits.
Today’s Quinnipiac poll isn’t good news for the President. By almost every metric, his overall support is ticking down. But on issues of trust, leadership, strength, values, he still has the support of a strong majority of Republicans. And his base is more solid still.
I’m not saying Donald Trump will win again in 2020 but, given the complicated formula of American electoral maths, it’s certainly not impossible. He won by just tens of thousands of votes in three key states. If those votes are still there as he runs for a second term, what’s to say he can’t win again?
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