Opinion writer

Not unlike the recent Post-ABC News poll, the latest CNN poll delivers some bad news to the White House:

Donald Trump’s approval rating stands at its lowest point in CNN’s polling as concerns about contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives have grown sharply in the wake of the first indictments from the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the US election.

Overall, just 36% say they approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS, worse by one percentage point than Trump’s previous low of 37%, reached in October. Disapproval has also reached a new high at 58%, with nearly half (48%) saying they strongly disapprove of the way the President is handling his job.

Moreover, despite the president’s disinformation campaign — aided by Fox News, which has become largely indistinguishable from state TV (even removing an impeachment ad that upset its viewers) — the public has become increasingly concerned about the president’s conduct. “More Americans than ever before express concern about contacts between suspected Russian operatives and Trump’s presidential campaign. Forty-four percent say they are ‘very concerned’ about those reports, up from just 27% saying so in July …  Almost six in 10, 59%, say they think Trump himself knew last year that anyone associated with his campaign had contact with suspected Russian operatives, while only 35% think the then-GOP nominee did not know about those contacts.” And the argument that this is all a hoax or witch hunt has fallen on deaf ears. (“About two-thirds (64%) now say the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the US presidential election in 2016 is a serious matter that should be fully investigated, while just 32% see it as an effort to discredit Trump’s presidency. That figure is down from 38% saying so in August.”) In the public’s eye, it is not special counsel Robert S. Mueller III who is mishandling matters, but Trump. “Just 34% approve of the way Trump is handling that investigation, 54% disapprove, though that represents an improvement since August, when 59% disapproved.”

Republicans are in their own political universe. Eighty-six percent approve of the job he is doing; 66 percent approve of how he’s handling the Russia investigation; only 42 percent say Russian interference is a crisis or major problem; and 75 percent think Trump didn’t know about the contacts with pro-Russian operatives. The degree to which they have accepted hook, line and sinker the counter-accusations against Hillary Clinton and the increasingly preposterous excuses and denials should not shock those who have seen the GOP sacrifice reason and moral clarity at the altar of Trump worship. It’s not clear whether guilty pleas and/or convictions would change their minds. (If you wanted to be optimistic about these Americans, you could speculate that they really aren’t so naive but just don’t want to admit their faith in Trump is unwarranted. Conned people rarely will admit they’ve been conned.)

Short of firing Mueller or pardoning a slew of people — which would risk impeachment — Trump no longer can control the information coming from the probe. And he has lost the ability to convince anyone but those determined not to be convinced that this is no big deal. The idea that Trump is “getting away” with his shenanigans is not reflected in polling. To the contrary, he is hemorrhaging support and losing the credibility battle with Mueller.