When CNN and its polling partner SSRS surveyed Americans in the middle of September, they found good news for President Trump. Nearly two-thirds of Americans approved of how he’d handled the responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma after the storms made landfall in Texas and Florida. A week later, though, Hurricane Maria ripped across Puerto Rico, and Trump’s handling of that disaster soon received a lot of negative reviews.
That seems to have had an effect. In a new CNN poll released Monday evening, the percentage of Americans that approved of Trump’s handling of the hurricanes overall had fallen to 44 percent — a 20-point drop.
Buried in that drop is another, more significant bit of data. The overall drop was 20 points, driven by significant decreases among independents (minus 22) and Democrats (minus 25). Among Republicans, though, the decline was only 9 points — and more than 80 percent of the members of his own party still approve of how Trump handled the storms.
The reason why Republicans are confident in Trump’s performance isn’t indicated. Perhaps they accept Trump’s argument that his handling of Puerto Rico has been treated unfairly. Perhaps they simply think that the disaster wasn’t as bad as some reports have indicated. But it’s clear that part of that response is loyalty to the president.
Republicans have consistently viewed Trump much more favorably than other groups, which is not unusual. But given how unpopular Trump is overall — historically unpopular, per Gallup — his numbers among members of his own party continue to be high. In CNN’s poll, 82 percent of Republicans approve of the president, including more than 6 in 10 who approve of his job performance strongly.
Unsurprisingly, those numbers correlate to the responses when CNN asked if Trump’s policies will move the United States in the right or the wrong direction. Most Americans think Trump’s moving it in the wrong direction — but 82 percent of Republicans think he’s moving us the right way.
There are issues on which Republicans disagree with Trump significantly, including on the health-care legislation that failed to pass in the Senate earlier this year. Both the Senate and House bills were widely reviled by most Americans, including most Republicans.
On Monday, though, Trump neatly summarized why he doesn’t seem to have taken much of a hit from that failure.
“I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular with most Republican senators,” Trump said. “But we’re not getting the job done. And I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done.”
Republicans don’t seem to have blamed Trump much either. In fact, when CNN asked Americans who they had confidence in to address the major issues facing the country, nearly two-thirds of Republicans said Trump, not their representatives in Congress.
Part of this is a function of Republicans in Congress not being able to get their act together — which itself is a function of the normal deliberative process on Capitol Hill. Legislators are supposed to disagree on legislation and get together to find something workable for the majority. Senate Republicans had internal differences that kept that from happening and haven’t yet figured out where middle ground might lie, perhaps including Democratic support.
The net result, though, is that Trump gets to position his lack of success (obligatory “I alone can fix it” mention) as a failure of his party in Congress. Republican voters are inclined to believe that — and to continue to believe that Trump is the best path forward.
That’s pretty remarkable. One way to look at the big picture here: Failures to pass legislation are seen by most Republicans as the failing of Republicans in Congress, but any failure in Puerto Rico — purely the domain of the executive branch — are seen as either a small hiccup or mostly nonexistent.
Heads, Trump wins. Tails, his opponents lose. For those invested in Trump’s success, he can’t fail. An enviable position for a politician and one that, in this case, rests to some extent on Trump’s having spent most of the campaign building a foundation on which no one can be trusted but him.
For Republicans in Congress, that’s likely going to continue to be a problem.