THE MORNING PLUM:
In recent days, President Trump has escalated his assaults on the “Fake News” media and other institutions, in an increasingly frantic effort to carve out a kind of safe space that cannot be penetrated by accountability or factual reality. Inside this bubble, the truth is what Trump says it is, on Twitter and in his tirades before rally crowds, where Twitter replies (even by bots) and raucous cheers serve as confirmation of Trump’s versions of events in a kind of intensifying feedback loop.
But if the brutal new poll released Tuesday by CNN is any indication, that safe space seems perilously small.
Trump’s own advisers appear to believe his safe space is shrinking. As the Associated Press reports Tuesday, this is what explains his recent antics:
The president has increased his media-bashing via Twitter and staged rallies hoping to marshal his base to his defense. … There are signs that his support among Republicans may be softening. His advisers are aware that a serious slip in support among his core voters could jeopardize hopes for a major, early legislative accomplishment and would certainly increase Republicans’ worries about his re-election prospects.
Tuesday’s CNN poll confirms that Trump’s support is shrinking. It finds that his approval is down to 38 percent, with 56 percent disapproval. Only 37 percent say he has the right priorities, while 59 percent say he hasn’t paid attention to the country’s most important problems. Americans say by only 43 percent to 55 percent that he can bring the change the country needs.
But more interesting, perhaps, is what the CNN poll tells us about his overall communications strategy:
- 55 percent say Trump has lowered the stature of the presidency, while only 17 percent say he has raised it, and another 25 percent say it is unchanged.
- Only 31 percent say Trump’s actions have made them more confident in his ability to serve as president, while a staggering 62 percent say his actions have made them less confident.
- A total of 73 percent have low trust in what they hear in official communications from the White House: 30 percent trust nothing at all, and 43 percent trust just some of it, while 19 percent trust most of it and 5 percent trust almost all of it — meaning only 24 percent trust much of what this White House tells them.
Meanwhile, the CNN poll finds broad discomfort with Trump’s use of Twitter. A large majority says Twitter does allow Trump to communicate directly, but few Americans think this is a good thing:
A majority (52%) say his tweets are not an effective way for him to share his views on important issues, and 72% say they do not send the right message to other world leaders.
Seven in 10 say they too often seem to be in response to TV news the President may have seen, and 71% that they are a risky way for a president to communicate. Six in 10 say they are easy to misunderstand, 63% that they too often turn out to be misleading.
Trump’s operating premise has been that he can scramble the political calculus with his unconventional, disruptive communications approach, which involves using social media and rallies to communicate directly with the American people, while bludgeoning the credibility of institutional sources that are providing information that undercuts his “alternative facts.” This probably helped him get to the White House.
But now that Trump has tried to bring this strategy to governing, here’s the result: Only small minorities believe what the White House is telling them; and thanks in part to his nonstop antics, majorities lack confidence in his ability to serve and believe he has degraded the presidency.
Trump’s gut-level calculation seems to be that his long-term political survival depends on forging an enduring bond with his supporters — a bond that appears dependent on delegitimizing (in their minds) all outside sources of information. The sounding of alarms about Russian sabotage of our election, which our intelligence services have documented, is nothing but a hoax. Reporting that fills in details about the ongoing Russia probes, or raises doubts about his fitness for the presidency (such as that crazy conversation with the Australian prime minister), is dismissed as “fake news,” before subsequently being confirmed. As Jake Tapper put it: “Almost every single time he’s used that term, the news has been accurate. It’s just been news he doesn’t like.”
Indeed, Trump’s use of “Fake News” is even broader than this: It is also a catchall dismissal, a forward-looking one, that seems to be designed to prep his supporters to dismiss future revelations that likely will be forthcoming as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe intensifies. It is part of a broader effort to delegitimize in advance the institutions that will likely escalate their efforts in coming weeks and months to hold him accountable.
But it all appears to be further alienating the large majorities outside his safe space — and that safe space seems to be shrinking.
* WILL TRUMP RELEASE BIG CLIMATE REPORT? The New York Times reports that a new unreleased draft report from 13 federal agencies concludes climate change is an urgent threat that is human-created, and whose impact is being felt in the U.S. right now. But:
The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it. … The E.P.A. is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Aug. 18. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.
Here’s a thought: Release the report, then Trump can tweet that it’s #FakeScience and #FakeNews and a #hoax, and then we can decide who is more credible.
* A TEST FOR TRUMP ON SCIENCE: The Post reports that many in the scientific community view Trump’s handling of the climate report as a major test:
Many scientists are looking at it as a test case of the administration’s attitude toward science in general.
“The current situation will provide an acid test of whether the Trump administration is open to hearing the scientific truth about climate change or is so much in the thrall of fossil fuel interests that they are fixated on hiding the reality from the public,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said Monday night.
One thing to watch for: If the administration contests or buries the report, will more scientists inside the administration start speaking out?
* BIG DEADLINES LOOM IN FISCAL FIGHTS: The Associated Press previews the multiple challenges and deadlines Trump and congressional Republicans face:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin … says the debt ceiling needs to be raised by Sept. 29 to avert the risk of a first-ever U.S. default. … The government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and legislation needs to be enacted to prevent a partial shutdown of federal agencies. … Republicans have yet to pass a budget plan for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.
If you think the health-care fight showcased the Trump-GOP inability to govern, just wait until this fall.
* WHITE HOUSE WOOS DEMOCRATS ON TAXES, INFRASTRUCTURE: Politico reports that the White House is quietly reaching out to centrist House Democrats to gauge the possibility of bipartisan compromise on tax reform. Note this:
At a mid-June dinner at the White House with four centrist House Democrats, President Donald Trump expressed interest in a bipartisan package combining tax reform with infrastructure spending, multiple sources said.
The question there is whether Trump (and Republicans) could ever support an infrastructure plan that constitutes an actual public expenditure, rather than a tax-break and privatization scheme.
* BIG MAJORITY IS ‘UNEASY’ ABOUT TRUMP’S HANDLING OF NORTH KOREA: A new CBS News poll finds:
In general, do you have confidence in Donald Trump’s ability to handle the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program, or are you uneasy about his approach?
But 76 percent of Republicans have confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the situation, so he’s clearly doing great.
* TRUMP BUSINESSES RELY ON GUEST WORKERS: The Wall Street Journal reports that amid Trump’s immigration crackdown, demand for guest workers, mostly from Mexico, has surged, leading the Department of Homeland Security to admit more of them. And:
Among the employers that applied in the past year for guest workers under the H-2B program are two operations owned by the Trump Organization, the real-estate company controlled by President Donald Trump’s family: the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and a Virginia vineyard. The Trump Organization declined to comment.
That would mean not one but two businesses owned by the Trump Organization rely on them.
* DOES TRUMP EVEN NEED A COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR? The White House currently doesn’t have a communications director, and CNN reports this intriguing nugget:
There are some White House officials who wonder whether a communications director — at least in the traditional capacity — is even needed for a decidedly untraditional President.
Instead, they say the President’s wide network of advisers inside and outside the White House are acting as a de facto communications team in their blanket appearances on cable television, chiefly Fox News.
Indeed, why not outsource the whole job to Fox News?