Democracy Dies in Darkness

Post Partisan | Opinion

A bad month, and bad numbers, for Trump

September 12, 2018 at 6:01 AM

President Trump during a Cabinet meeting in July. (Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

One of the mysteries of President Trump’s meteoric political career is how he withstood scandals that would have sent any other politician crashing to earth. The “Access Hollywood” videotape, the chaos of the Muslim travel ban, the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, the revelation of a meeting between the Trump campaign and a Kremlin emissary, the praise for neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, the separation of immigrant children from their parents, the humiliation in Helsinki, his “unpresidented” invective: None of it dented his roughly 40 percent support.

But it looks as if something has changed in the past month. It’s too early to say that the change is lasting — and it is certainly not a reason to write off a politician who has defied predictions of his demise so many times in the past. But Trump’s polls numbers, already low considering the robust state of the economy, have recently taken a turn for the worse.

At the beginning of August, Trump was at 41.3 percent approval and 52.9 percent disapproval in the FiveThirtyEight poll of polls. Now he’s down to 39.9 percent approval and 53.7 percent disapproval — and he’s being artificially buoyed by the Rasmussen poll, which has consistently been his most favorable. (Rasmussen has him at 47 percent.) If you average only the eight other high-quality polls that have come out in the past two weeks, he’s down to 38 percent approval. The CNN poll shows a particularly big drop – down six points in the past month with all voters and a whopping 16 points with independents.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more people supported Trump’s impeachment (49 percent) than approved of his job performance (36 percent). The Quinnipiac poll found that a majority of respondents do not think that Trump is honest (60 percent to 32 percent), has good leadership skills (57-38), cares about average Americans (55-41) or is fit to serve as president (55-41). Only 48 percent judged that he is mentally stable; 42 percent disagreed.

What could account for this small but significant shift? Well, a lot has happened since early August — almost all of it bad from Trump’s perspective.

Aug. 3: Trump impugns the intelligence of two prominent African Americans, LeBron James and Don Lemon. Critics charge racism.

Aug. 10: The Post breaks the news about Omarosa Manigault Newman’s unflattering memoir of her time in the White House, which includes allegations that Trump used the “n word” and that she was offered a $15,000-a-month job to stay silent. Trump responds by calling her “a crazed, crying lowlife” and praising his chief of staff “for quickly firing that dog!”

Aug. 15: Trump revokes former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance to punish him for anti-Trump remarks. Numerous former intelligence and security officials rally around Brennan and denounce what William McRaven, a retired admiral and former head of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, describes as Trump’s “McCarthy-era tactics.”

Aug. 21: Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is convicted of eight felony counts of financial fraud. At virtually the same time, his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleads guilty to eight felonies of his own. These include two counts of conspiring to violate federal election laws at the instigation of his client to pay off adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal to stay silent about their reported dalliances with Trump.

Aug. 25: Trump’s nemesis, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), dies. Trump causes a furor by resisting lowering flags to half-staff for the full week of ceremonies to follow.

Sept. 1: McCain is commemorated at Washington National Cathedral in a nationally televised service that, just as he intended, amounts to a bipartisan rejection of Trump’s ugly and divisive politics.

Sept. 3: In an assault on the rule of law, Trump complains on Twitter that the Justice Department shouldn’t be indicting Republican members of Congress because it could jeopardize their seats.

Sept. 4: The Post publishes the first news article about Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” which features top Trump aides calling him “an idiot” and a “professional liar” who has turned the White House into “Crazytown.” Trump responds in typically self-contradictory fashion by calling the book “fiction” and “a scam,” but at the same time vowing to hunt down Woodward’s sources.

Sept. 5: The New York Times publishes an article by an anonymous senior administration official who complains that the president’s “impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions.” Trump cluelessly confirms those charges by suggesting that the article constitutes “TREASON” and demanding that the Times turn the “GUTLESS” author “over to government at once!”

What, of all these events, cost Trump several critical points of support? I’d guess the most important development was Cohen’s conviction: It is not every day that the president’s former personal lawyer implicates him in the commission of a federal crime. But Woodward’s book and the anonymous op-ed also hurt because they showed insiders confirming what so many critics have long said: Trump is unfit to hold office. And don’t neglect the importance of the McCain funeral, which might have moved the anonymous op-ed writer into action. Or maybe it’s just the sheer accumulation of unflattering news that has no appreciable impact at first but eventually proves crushing.

Whatever the case, this downturn in his popularity couldn’t come at a worse time for Trump. There are fewer than 60 days to go before the midterm election, and Republican hopes of holding the House are fading. Even the Senate is now in play. If Trump’s support keeps slipping, down to the low 30s, a few Republicans might even screw up the nerve to vote for impeachment. The question now is: What crazy stunt will Trump pull to distract the public and change the narrative? Bomb Syria? Meet again with Kim Jong Un? Fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Declare war on Canada? Almost anything is possible.

Max Boot, a Post columnist, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a global affairs analyst for CNN. He is the author of “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."

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