Since it’s a poll in August 2017 about the presidency of Donald Trump, a new offering from the Pew Research Center includes plenty of bad news for him. Trump’s approval rating is at 36 percent, about where other polls have had it, and while Republicans generally side with his policy goals, most Americans do not.
But buried in the poll is a fascinating detail that helps explain a lot of what we’ve seen over Trump’s seven months in office. Those who think he’s doing a good job mostly think that because of his abnormal behavior, not despite it.
We get a glimpse of that position at the outset. Pew asked respondents whether they generally agreed with Trump’s positions on issues and whether they generally approved of his conduct in office. Republicans (and independents who lean Republican, who are merged with that group in the responses below) generally agree with all or most of Trump’s positions and, while only a third say they like Trump’s behavior, most don’t say they flat-out dislike it, either.
Notice, though, that more Republicans say they put up with or like Trump’s behavior than say that they align with most or all of his attitudes on policy.
Pew put a fine point on it, asking people what they liked most about Trump’s time in office. Those who approve of Trump cited his approach and personality nearly four times as much as they cited his positions on political issues.
It reminds me of an article posted on the conservative site Ace of Spades shortly after Trump’s inauguration. The pertinent section:
Personally, I don’t feel in any way responsible for Trump, nor do I feel compelled to defend him against attack.
Why? Because I voted for retribution.
“He’s think-skinned [sic] and petty!” shrieks the left. “He takes everything personally!”
Good, I say. I want him to take attacks personally and deal out payback. I know I won’t be the target, you will be.
Trump’s behavior in office has often comported with precisely that idea — and a certain portion of the Republican base approves. Sure, 65 percent of Republicans don’t like or have mixed views of Trump’s conduct. But a third actively support it.
Which third? Pew’s data suggests that it’s the same third that has supported that conduct from his first day as a candidate.
Older more than younger. Less educated more than more educated. Conservative more than moderate.
Pew asked Republicans whether they thought Trump would be well served spending more time listening to Republicans with experience in government. Overall, most respondents said he should. But 40 percent of conservative Republicans said he shouldn’t — that he should continue to blaze his own path forward wherever it ends up taking him.
None of this means that his base will never leave him. As our Dana Milbank wrote last month, polling suggests that there’s a strong correlation between views of the economy and views of Trump; if the economy sours, so to may Trump’s base.
But Trump’s campaign and presidency were centered on opposition to the status quo and a willingness to defy the norms of what’s expected from a president. He once hailed this as “modern-day presidential,” but it’s not. It’s Trump-specific. He was the perfect candidate for a moment in which dislike and distrust of the Washington establishment would be rewarded, and it was. Seven months into his presidency, his base continues to reward him for it.
Everyone else, including a lot of Republicans, remain wary. At best.