President Trump’s willingness to flout convention and stoke controversy may be starting to hurt him, even among previously strong supporters.
Trump has defied political norms ever since the start of his campaign two years ago. He brushed aside calls to become a more conventional candidate, and it paid off, making him the nation’s 45th president.
But Trump’s approval rating, always low by historical standards, has been sliding since he took office in January. Crucially, many recent surveys detected an erosion of his support among Republicans and independents.
Trump’s job performance wins approval from only 35 percent of the public, while 64 percent disapprove, according to a new poll released late last week from The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That is one of the worst findings yet for Trump in any major survey.
The same poll found that 65 percent of Americans think their president has little or no respect for the nation’s democratic institutions and traditions.
The second finding does not necessarily spell doom for Trump, given that a large segment of his support comes from people who like him because of his willingness to rebel against “business as usual” in Washington. But it is a warning sign for the president, at the very least.
Republican strategist Dan Judy argued that voters who had backed Trump with some ambivalence over Democratic nominee last November were among those most likely to be put off by the various controversies to afflict the White House, and by the president’s incendiary style.
“A lot of people — the ‘Not Hillary’ Trump voters — knew who was, they knew what kind of person he was,” said Judy, who worked with the president’s GOP primary rival Sen. (Fla.) last year. “They were willing to tolerate some of the theatrics and some of the disruption it led to, as long as it led to a policy agenda they supported.
“The longer he goes without real policy victories, the less patience they are going to have.”
Those voters appear to be becoming jaded with the apparently endless storms that have afflicted the Trump presidency. But, as usual, there is no sign of the president backing down or tempering his public pronouncements.
Over the past week, amid reports that Trump is under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for possible obstruction of justice, the president unleashed Twitter barbs at Hillary Clinton, the “fake news media” and fired FBI director James Comey.
On Friday morning, Trump appeared to take aim at his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller after Comey’s firing.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” Trump wrote.
Sen. (D-Calif.) was among those firing back at Trump. In a statement released a few hours later, she asserted that, “The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn’t apply to him.”
Though Trump’s defenders have long argued that pollsters underestimate his support and his base is resilient, there is some data to back up the skeptics.
In the RealClearPolitics average as of Friday afternoon, Trump’s job performance was registering 39.9 percent approval and 53.6 percent disapproval.
Polling and data expert Nate Silver on Twitter earlier this month that, “Good reporting needs to be able to distinguish between Trump’s Bannonist base (20-25% of the country) and all Trump voters (46%).”
Silver also highlighted, as other pollsters have done, that the number of Trump supporters who say they back him “strongly” has dropped in many polls.
In the new Associated Press poll, fully one-quarter of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents disapproved of Trump’s job performance, while nearly a third said he has little or no respect for America’s democratic institutions.
Those figure should be troubling to the White House, given that serving presidents often enjoy approval ratings of around 90 percent among supporters of their own party.
Judy, the GOP strategist, said the change showing up in the polls is often a precursor to a broader loss of support.
“Even among those who approve, you’re seeing a decrease in the intensity of that approval,” he said. “That’s the first step in the decline. The next step is people moving from ‘somewhat approve’ to ‘somewhat disapprove’ — and that’s when Trump is in real trouble.”
Still, Judy acknowledged that such a switch might be a long time coming. And even some Republican strategists who have been critical of Trump cautioned against overstating his problems.
Pundits and pollsters have written him off repeatedly, only to find him survive problems that would sink other politicians.
Rick Tyler, who worked for Sen. (R-Texas) during the 2016 primary, said Trump might have lost some “moderate Republicans” who had always been lukewarm in their support.
But, he added, “I think his base is holding together pretty well, because they don’t blame him. They think he is a victim — that there is grand conspiracy against him.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.