President Trump (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

Donald Trump is a winner, so the only poll that could conceivably be accurate is the one that puts him at 50 percent or higher. And so the president in recent days has been tweeting frantically about Rasmussen’s surveys, which he likes to characterize as “honest polling.”

This morning, in a radio interview, Trump went even further in extolling Rasmussen polling, claiming that, if anything, it is underestimating his popularity. It would be easy to laugh this off as the usual bluster, but if Trump really believes this, it could have real consequences for the country, particularly in the context of his brewing trade war with China.

In today’s interview with “Bernie and Sid in the Morning” on WABC radio, Trump listened modestly as his hosts showered obsequious praise on him for heroically making America great in the face of unremitting hate from the media.

“A poll just came out now, Rasmussen, it’s now 51,” Trump said. “They say that it’s 51 but add another 7 or 8 points to it. … They don’t want to talk about it, but when they get into the booth they’re going to vote for Trump.”

Trump then immediately segued — unprompted — into a discussion of the border and his plan to send the National Guard there. “We’re stopping ’em,” Trump said of unnamed invaders. “We’re calling out the military. It’s a very, very powerful subject for this country.”

Then Trump was asked about trade and China. “I’m not saying there won’t be a little pain,” Trump said, adding: “We may take a hit, and you know what? Ultimately we’re going to be much stronger for it, but it’s something we have to do.”

This juxtaposition is disconcerting. If this trade war goes south, and the public rejects it, will Trump even know or believe that is happening?

Trump’s link between his soaring Rasmussen numbers and his plan to send the National Guard is a reminder that, for Trump, displays of border toughness are deeply bound up with his certainty in his soaring popularity. He reportedly decided to send in the Guard after feeling rare, creeping self-doubt about his failure to secure money for the wall, even as Fox News was pumping his head full of images of caravans packed with what he decided were swarthy rapists (actually, many are people fleeing desperate conditions) moving north through Mexico toward the southern U.S. border.

But Trump is now handling that problem with great strength — and applauded himself for doing so on the radio this morning, right after reminding us of his Real Approval Rating of 58 or 59 percent.

But what is going to happen if Trump continues to believe such polling in the event of a protracted trade war? As today’s comments indicate, Trump is already framing this standoff as something we must “win.” There are legitimate grounds to call on China to change some of its trading practices, but there are no signs that Trump is taking steps that are specifically geared toward that end. Instead, Trump has no real plan beyond somehow generally forcing China to submit to his will.

Whatever is to happen on that front, this posture is already threatening serious consequences for many stakeholders, which is why they’re screaming at him to stop the madness and why his own advisers are saying it’s all just posturing. But do those advisers even speak for Trump? Nobody knows what he’s capable of, and if a trade war is met with a public backlash rooted in real economic pain, it’s unlikely that Trump, who is drifting deeper and deeper into Foxlandia on trade and immigration alike, will even believe it’s happening.

Foxlandia, to be clear, isn’t synonymous with Fox News, though they overlap. Foxlandia is the nexus of all of Trump’s favorite information sources and personalities and Rasmussen pollsters — the chorus of voices that tell him what he wants to hear. Foxlandia, of course, is occasionally capable of getting Trump to believe he’s not winning uniformly everywhere. All that coverage of the caravan and criticism of him for failing to get his wall got him to send in the troops. But if there’s a trade war, inside Foxlandia you can bet that the coverage of it will only confirm that Trump is fighting the enemies that Foxlandia wants him to fight — and, of course, vanquishing them.

* MUELLER LOOKS AT TRUMP’S ASSOCIATES: McClatchy reports that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators questioned an associate of the Trump Organization who was involved with the company’s overseas deals:

Mueller’s team showed up unannounced at the home of the business associate, who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump’s effort to expand his brand abroad, according to persons familiar with the proceedings. … The move to question business associates of the president adds a significant new element to the Mueller investigation.

It’s your regular reminder that Mueller is up to his elbows in Trump’s finances, and we have no idea what he’s learned.

* A WEAK JOBS REPORT: The jobs numbers for March are in:

Total nonfarm payroll employment edged up by 103,000 in March, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

As Justin Wolfers put it: “If you got over-excited about strong growth last month, this report should undo it.” Just this morning, Trump tweeted: “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!”

* TRUMP ESCALATES AGAIN, AND A GOP SENATOR UNLOADS: Last night, Trump announced yet another round of tariffs against China, which responded by saying it is ready for a fight. The Post reports on the reaction here:

The president’s latest salvo, moving the world’s two largest economies closer to an open brawl, is certain to spook U.S. allies in Europe and Japan as well as American business leaders, who are desperate for a negotiated resolution of the dispute. … lawmakers fear a deepening trade war will hurt jobs and businesses in their states, and they worry it could cost Republican votes in the 2018 midterm elections.

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responds: “The president has no actual plan to win right now. He’s threatening to light American agriculture on fire.” What will other GOP leaders say now?

* WHY CHINA THINKS IT CAN WIN A TRADE WAR: The New York Times reports that, while China has a lot of exports that are vulnerable if Trump keeps expanding tariffs, its leader Xi Jinping still thinks he can win:

Mr. Xi enjoys advantages that may allow him to cope with the economic fallout far better than Mr. Trump can. His authoritarian grip on the news media and the party means there is little room for criticism of his policies, even as Mr. Trump must contend with complaints from American companies and consumers before important midterm elections in November. The Chinese government also has much greater control over the economy.

Yes, in our political system, Trump will be held accountable. No fair! Rigged!

* TRUMP’S BORDER MILITARIZATION IS A STUNT: CNN’s Tal Kopan reports that there’s a little problem with Trump’s plan to send the National Guard to the border:

Unlike the picture painted by Trump’s dire descriptions … the number of people trying to cross the border illegally last fiscal year was roughly one-third of what it was in 2006 … a host of legal restrictions on what troops are actually allowed to do at the border paired with historically low levels of attempted illegal border crossings leave more questions than answers about what the troops at the border will actually be able to accomplish.

We all know that Trump is only doing this out of rage over not getting his wall.

* TRUMP’S POLICY TOWARD CHINA IS SENSELESS: Paul Krugman notes that in some ways, China really is acting badly toward international rules on intellectual property rights, and adds:

If getting China to pay what it owes for technology were the goal, you’d expect the U.S. both to make specific demands on that front … In fact, the U.S. has given little indication of what China should do about intellectual property. Meanwhile, if getting better protection of patent rights and so on were the goal, America should be trying to build a coalition with other advanced countries to pressure the Chinese; instead, we’ve been alienating everyone in sight.

Everybody knows Trump hasn’t given any thought to the specifics here, and no one can say whether his advisers even speak for him.

* AND TRUMP IS FREEZING OUT JOHN KELLY: The Associated Press reports that Trump is going sour on his chief of staff:

Those close to the president say that Trump has increasingly expressed fatigue at Kelly’s attempts to shackle him and … has begun gradually freezing out his top aide. Trump recently told one confidant that he was “tired of being told no” by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.

Trump is tired of being told no! Good job, Trump voters.