THE MORNING PLUM:
As we stumble toward the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency, the president’s frequent assaults on the news media appear to have taken on a distinct purpose. With the White House visibly agitated by the possibility of brutally negative 100-day coverage of President Trump’s tenure so far, he has insisted that the press is misrepresenting his record, while also vastly inflating it himself — thus preparing his voters to dismiss everything they are being told about his historic lack of accomplishments.
A new Post-ABC News poll suggests that this may be working for Trump. It finds that enormous majorities of his voters believe the news media regularly publishes false stories. Even bigger majorities of them believe the news media’s falsehoods are a bigger problem than the Trump administration’s falsehoods are, while only small fractions think the administration tells falsehoods or that his lies are the greater problem. Just look at these findings, which I pulled from the crosstabs:
- 80 percent of Trump voters think it’s a bigger problem that news organizations produce false stories, while only 3 percent of them think it’s a bigger problem that the Trump administration makes false claims. (Among Republicans overall, this is 69-14.)
- Only 17 percent of Trump voters think the Trump administration regularly makes false claims, while 76 percent of Trump voters think it doesn’t. (Among Republicans overall, this is 31-65.)
- By contrast, 78 percent of Trump voters think that news organizations regularly produce false stories, while only 19 percent of them think otherwise. (Among Republicans overall, this is 70-27.)
- Meanwhile, 84 percent of Trump voters think he’s keeping most of his major campaign promises, while only 4 percent think he isn’t, and 89 percent of them think he’s honest and trustworthy.
The question is whether those things are related: Amid increased press scrutiny of Trump’s falsehoods and failings, do Trump’s assaults on the media — and the related widespread belief among Trump voters that the media regularly produces false stories — further bond them to Trump and make them more likely to believe he’s succeeding?
It’s possible. Note this finding from another new poll of Trump voters, this one from the University of Virginia Center for Politics Poll:
Nearly nine in 10 respondents (88%) said that media criticism of Trump reinforces that the president is on the right track, and the same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is “the enemy of the American people.”
The lies that tumble from Trump himself are unprecedented in scope, audacity and frequency. The Post fact-checking team documented more than 400 false or misleading statements as of Day 91 of his presidency. Other administration members have taken their cues from this, particularly press secretary Sean Spicer, who set the tone early on by lying about Trump’s inaugural crowd sizes and accusing the press of falsely diminishing them. Yet to Trump voters, not only does this reality not exist at all; such critical media scrutiny of him and his administration also is a sign that he’s doing something right — that he’s on their side, and the news media is the enemy.
Now, a few caveats. Americans more broadly take a very dim view of the media, too: Fifty-two percent say news organizations regularly produce false stories, and Americans say very narrowly that the administration’s falsehoods are the bigger problem, by only 43-40. (One bright spot: Fifty-nine percent say the administration regularly tells falsehoods.) What’s more, these findings among Trump voters could reflect generalized hostility toward the press and a general desire for Trump to prevail. And as Callum Borchers notes, it’s hard to measure what counts as a “false” media story, making public sentiment about the press hard to discern.
Meanwhile, as Politico Magazine recently detailed, behind the scenes, Trump and the administration have a somewhat more conventional relationship with reporters than his theatrical assaults on the media suggest. It’s also unclear how far Trump’s media strategy will ultimately get him: Even if his voters nod along with it, the broader mainstream sees Trump as dishonest and disapproves of his performance at historic levels.
Still, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump is accomplishing one of his key goals. In the minds of his voters, at least, his project to obliterate shared agreement on the legitimate institutional role of the media in informing the citizenry proceeds apace.
* TRUMP’S 100-DAY ACCOMPLISHMENTS DON’T AMOUNT TO MUCH: Trump is now promising the biggest tax cut ever as part of tax reform; said he might pull out of NAFTA; renewed the repeal-and-replace push; and said he’s absolutely serious about breaking up the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. NBC’s First Read crew punctures the bluster:
- That “biggest tax cut ever” was just a single sheet of paper with no details behind it (conservative economist Peter Morici told NPR that it’s what a 12-year-old Newt Gingrich would have asked Santa Claus for Christmas);
- Late last night, the White House said that “Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time,” and that the leaders of Canada and Mexico said they would work to renegotiate the treaty;
- While House Republicans have picked up additional votes for their health-care legislation, it’s unclear whether they have the 216 needed for passage (and the Senate seems to be an even harder pull);
- And if you think Trump is going to be able to split up the 9th Circuit, we have a bridge to sell you …
This is why Trump’s success in persuading his voters that the media is lying to them is important.
* TRUMP’S TAX PLAN ‘WILL RICHLY BENEFIT MR. TRUMP’: A juicy tidbit from the New York Times’s overview of Trump’s new tax reform “plan,” which was rolled out yesterday:
The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them — both moves that would richly benefit Mr. Trump. Little is known of Mr. Trump’s tax burden, but one of the small nuggets revealed in the partial release of a 2005 tax return this year was that he paid $31 million under the alternative minimum tax that year.
Now consider how little we really know about how much Trump’s plan might benefit him.
* HOW TRUMP’S TAX PLAN COULD HELP HIM POLITICALLY: Trump’s tax plan would slash taxes for corporations and individuals and would confer big benefits on the wealthy. The Washington Examiner reports on how this could help Trump:
Upscale suburban voters could also find Trump’s plan appealing, allowing the president to improve his political position in 2018 with this crucial bloc … “The hole in Trump’s political golf swing is upscale educated suburban Republicans. If he had those folks strongly in his corner, to go with the passionate support he has in rural and industrial areas, he’d be a pretty potent force,” Republican strategist Brad Todd said.
Definitely something worth watching.
* TAX MARCH ORGANIZERS TO SPEAK OUT: Now that the administration has confirmed Trump will never release his tax returns, leaders of the Tax March Coalition — which organized the rallies — will hold a news conference today in Washington. They will argue that, with tax reform now being undertaken, Congress must vote to disclose Trump’s tax returns so that voters know how he stands to benefit from the plan.
One key question is how hard a line Democrats will draw. Will they make release of the returns, or some other kind of disclosure, a condition for any support for whatever reform plan Trump pursues?
* MODERATES REJECTING NEW GOP HEALTH PLAN: The Associated Press reports that House conservatives love the latest repeal-and-replace bill, but moderates are balking at how they’d allow premiums to get jacked up for people with preexisting conditions:
Many moderates opposed the initial Republican bill before the latest proposed changes, and there were no signs that the revisions converted any of them into supporters. The legislation does things they oppose, including cutting the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and providing less generous federal subsidies to help people buy coverage than under Obama’s law.
It should not be forgotten that the GOP plan would roll back the Medicaid expansion, leaving 14 million fewer covered by Medicaid, while delivering an enormous tax cut to the rich.
* ANOTHER POLL FINDS TRUMP UNDERWATER: A new Fox News poll finds that 50 percent of Americans think Trump is Trump is “failing” to bring needed change to Washington, while only 43 percent he is succeeding. And 45 percent approve of his job performance, vs. 48 percent who disapprove.
* AND HERE’S TRUMP’S MOST AMAZING ACHIEVEMENT: E.J. Dionne Jr. points out that Trump has managed to get us to stop talking about the Russia probe and that he has distracted GOP voters from that topic by persuading them that former president Barack Obama wiretapped his phones. And:
There is this core Trump principle: A lie is as good as the truth as long as you can get your base to believe it … Given the substantive emptiness of Trump’s presidency so far, his greatest achievement is that he is still standing there, making pronouncements as if he means them and moving noisily but without any clear plan from one thing to the next. Every day he can postpone his reckoning with Russia is a victory.
But as Dionne concludes, “facts are stubborn things, and the Russia story cannot be suppressed forever.” Yet his base will never, ever believe whatever facts emerge.