THE MORNING PLUM:
A new Gallup poll has some folks excitedly tweeting that President Trump’s reelection chances are similar to those of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton before him — both of whom, you may recall, did get reelected — but the more important story is what Gallup concludes about the depths of Trump’s historic unpopularity.
The poll finds that a solid majority — 59 percent — of Americans say Trump does not deserve to be reelected, vs. only 37 percent who say he does. But Gallup’s headline blares: “Trump’s Re-Elect Figures Similar to Those of Obama, Clinton.” And it’s true, as Gallup says, that these numbers are “essentially identical” to those of Clinton and Obama “at the time of the 1994 and 2010 midterm elections, respectively.”
But that comparison takes the current moment, which comes a little more than six months before the 2018 midterm elections, and compares it to the Obama and Clinton polling at around the time of Election Day. And, as Gallup notes, those numbers for Obama and Clinton led to truly huge midterm losses:
Clinton and Obama both saw their party suffer huge losses in their first midterm elections, when fewer than four in 10 voters thought they deserved re-election. In 1994, Democrats lost 53 seats in the House, and in 2010, they lost 63 seats.
If we take these Gallup numbers seriously, if Trump is still hovering at such a low reelection number this fall, then we may see Republicans sustain large midterm losses this time around (though for various structural reasons, such as gerrymandering, they might not be as large). As Nate Silver has suggested, Trump’s approval ratings appear to be remarkably steady through all kinds of news events, suggesting he may well still be mired in similar doldrums this fall.
What’s more, as Gallup reminds us today, if you look at Trump’s approval ratings, as opposed to the reelect numbers, those have steadily been worse than those of his recent predecessors — by sizable margins, in fact. So not only is Trump on track to face large midterm losses — he is also substantially less popular than those predecessors.
It is just way too early to say whether Trump is likely to get reelected, as Jonathan Bernstein explains. He could very well rise in popularity; or he might not; or he could fall further. But the depth of Trump’s current unpopularity is an important story beyond what it says about Trump’s political fortunes.
Because Trump has blown through so many norms, the question of whether the American public is rejecting him is a momentous one. Trump has embraced overt racism, xenophobia and authoritarianism, in the form of regular racial provocations, assaults on our institutions and the rule of law, and an unprecedented level of self-dealing that basically constitutes a big middle finger to the country. He has married all this to orthodox GOP economic priorities — indeed, as Brian Beutler says, the three pillars of Trump-era conservatism are self-enriching plutocracy, racism and authoritarianism.
If that is so, then it is notable that majorities are rejecting all of those things. Obamacare repeal crashed and burned. The tax law passed, but it remains deeply unpopular. Majorities disapproved of Trump’s response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. Majorities sided with the “dreamers” against Trump and majorities reject Trump’s border wall and many of his demagogic arguments about immigration (though in fairness the polling is mixed on the thinly veiled Muslim ban). Majorities trust the news media, not Trump, to tell them the truth. Big majorities still want Trump to release his tax returns. Large majorities support special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of both potential collusion with Russia, dismissing Trump’s claims of a “witch hunt,” and of Trump’s finances. The public has sided with the investigation and the rule of law, and against Trump.
Writing at Vox this week, Dylan Matthews noted that liberals and Democrats yearning for a decisive end to the Trump presidency that cleanses the country of its stain — such as impeachment — are likely to be disappointed. Instead we face a long, hard slog. But I would add an important nuance: Liberals and Dems across the country are responding to Trumpism with politics and organizing. It’s plausible that Trump’s racism and assaults on the rule of law are being widely understood as threats to the country, prompting high turnout and electoral organizing, even among normally less active voters and swing voters, that may be driven by a desire to reinvigorate our democracy against Trump’s degradation of it.
We don’t talk enough about the deep and widespread public rejection of Trumpism and what it means for the country and its future. Because so many of us got it wrong in 2016, a kind of defensive posture has set in that has rendered us reluctant to speculate on the meaning of polls indicating this rejection. By all means, caution is always in order when interpreting polling data. At the same time, this should not blind us to what is right there in plain sight at the end of our noses.
* PRUITT SETS LIMITS ON SCIENCE: The Post scoops that Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is set to propose a new rule that would limit what kind of science the EPA can use in writing agency regulations:
The rule, which Pruitt has described in interviews with select media over the past month, would only allow EPA to consider studies for which the underlying data are made available publicly. Advocates describe this approach as an advance for transparency, but critics say it would effectively block the agency from relying on long-standing, landmark studies linking air pollution and pesticide exposure to harmful health effects.
Because if there is one thing we’ve seen, it’s that this administration values good science and transparency above all else.
* GOP FRETS ABOUT SPECIAL ELECTION: Today is the special House election in Arizona’s 8th District. Republicans are nervous, even though they are all but certain to win, since Trump won here by more than 20 points:
Republicans are showing concern over the outcome. … This race is on no one’s list of seats that will determine control of the House. But the closer the margin, the more alarmed Republicans will be about the enthusiasm gap between the two parties going into November.
Even if the Democrat loses, a single-digit margin will continue to bode well for Dems in this fall’s contests.
* DEMS EYE GAINS IN ARIZONA: Politico reports that Republicans also worry that if Republican Debbie Lesko only wins narrowly in today’s special election, that could signal big Dem victories later in the Arizona senate and gubernatorial races:
“If Lesko wins by a slim margin in a district that overwhelmingly went for President Trump, it will mean statewide candidates are going to have a rough road to hoe,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor from Arizona … Chip Scutari, a Republican consultant in Arizona, said that a single-digit margin … would be “a wake-up call to Republican elected officials that this is a radically different off-year.”
The Arizona Senate race — along with Nevada and possibly Tennessee — is key to Dem chances of taking back the upper chamber.
* ARIZONA BECOMING A BATTLEGROUND STATE? CNN reports on the long game Democrats are playing:
State Democrats say [Democrat Hilal] Tipirneni’s race, if she can close the 21-point Trump gap significantly, also propels long-held hopes that Arizona is inching towards becoming a battleground state. Trump won the state by 3 points in 2016 and demographic shifts increasingly diversify the state year after year.
CNN also notes that Republicans have spent $1.1 million on this race, an amazing sum given Trump’s enormous margin.
* TRUMP’S PICK FOR VA CHIEF STALLED: The Post reports that Senate lawmakers have put Trump’s nomination of White House physician Ronny L. Jackson as head of Veterans Affairs on hold:
In addition to Jackson’s lack of management experience, the former combat surgeon had come under fire for his glowing appraisal of Trump’s health following his annual physical in January. Jackson said then that the president might live to the age of 200 with a healthier diet. In recent days, fresh concerns arose about Jackson’s management of the White House medical office, said the officials, who declined to provide details.
But Trump went with his gut, so what could possibly go wrong?
* WISCONSIN AS GROUND ZERO IN SENATE BATTLE: The New York Times reports that Republicans and outside groups are pouring enormous sums into efforts to oust Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in a state Trump won in 2016:
Donors from outside the state are spending twice as much money on the race so far as on any other Senate contest this year, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics … The big spending [is] a measure of intensity on both sides to prevail in Wisconsin after … Trump shocked Democrats in 2016 … Democrats are bent on winning it back in 2020 — and getting Ms. Baldwin re-elected is a crucial step toward that goal.
Holding every one of these Senate seats in Trump states will be crucial if Dems are to have any shot at taking the Senate.
* GOP’S WAR ON BUDGETING AND EDUCATION: Paul Krugman notes that GOP tax cuts in multiple states have failed to produce magic explosions of revenues, leading to slashed teacher pay and numerous local strikes:
What happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts. … tax cuts … sharply reduce revenue … what conservative state governments have mainly done is squeeze teachers themselves. … teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor … And they can’t take it anymore.
It’s yet another way in which we’re still dealing with the lasting damage inflicted by the 2010 tea party takeover.