Two tweets from President Trump on Tuesday morning serve as a reminder of his approach to information: The only good information is information that makes him look good.
That effect was most obvious in this tweet.
Trump did hit 50 percent in Rasmussen Reports polling, as shown below.
Notice that he re-hit 50 percent, for the fifth time. Most recently, he polled at 50 percent in late February, then slid back down into the mid-40s.
It’s also true that Trump’s polling is now above where Barack Obama’s was at the same point of his presidency. On April 1, 2010, Obama was at 46 percent in Rasmussen’s poll; Trump was at 50 percent.
That’s a recent development, though. Until February, Rasmussen polls conducted on equivalent days showed Trump with a higher approval rating only twice.
But all of this obscures an important detail. Rasmussen has historically been much friendlier to Trump — and less so to Obama — than most other pollsters.
Compare Rasmussen’s poll numbers with the polling averages from RealClearPolitics for the same periods. The average includes a number of surveys, smoothing out the effects of pollsters that might consistently reflect a more Republican view of the president. (Rasmussen’s poll includes likely voters, as opposed to the overall population or registered voters, a population that often leans more Republican than other universes.)
Over this period, Rasmussen’s polls had Obama’s approval lower than the average 93 percent of the time. It had Trump’s higher than the average 99 percent of the time. And that’s despite Rasmussen’s polls being included in the average, meaning that Rasmussen outperforms the average even after pulling the average in a pro-Trump or anti-Obama direction.
One reason Trump’s poll numbers are as close to Obama’s as they are is that Trump always has been saddled with an effect that only really emerged in the second year of Obama’s presidency: partisans holding extreme views of the president. Republicans turned on Obama over the course of 2009, and by 2010, held strongly skeptical views of his performance for the next seven years. Trump came into office with Democrats viewing him skeptically. The reason Obama consistently outperforms Trump at this point in each man’s presidency is that independents are more skeptical of Trump than they were of Obama.
But let’s get back to the main point. Trump highlighting Rasmussen isn’t quite like putting your best friend as a reference on a job application, but it’s not as though he’s going out of his way to list former employers. He also goes a step further, though, disparaging all of those other surveys as not having “honest” polling. The only “honest” poll, it seems, is the one that has consistently differed from other polling to the Republicans’ benefit.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Here’s another tweet from Trump on Tuesday.
Here, he does precisely the same thing as in his Rasmussen tweet, just in a different world. CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS are “dishonest” media outlets that are worried about the “quality of Sinclair Broadcast.” Sinclair is the media conglomerate that overlaps heavily with Trump’s political base both literally and rhetorically. It’s overtly conservative, featuring (and promoting) commentary that casts Trump in a positive light. (It has regularly mandated that its 285 stations air opinion segments from former administration and campaign official Boris Epshtyn, for example, and similarly insists they air segments called “Terrorism Alert Desk.”) Sinclair attracted viral attention over the weekend after Deadspin published a video showing its anchors reciting a mandated screed against the lack of objectivity at other media outlets.
For Trump, this pro-Trump and pro-Trump-rhetoric mechanism is the right way to do things. Not like the fake news at outlets that ascribe to objectivity without interference from the business side. None of that matters as long as the result is positive news for Trump.
This attitude pervades the administration. There’s a page on the White House website that articulates what the West Wing is reading on any given day. (It’s called “West Wing Reads,” for obvious reason.) Since the beginning of the year, the articles highlighted on the page have leaned heavily toward more conservative outlets. The Washington Examiner, for example, has been highlighted more than any other media organization. The Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal both appear in the top five.
Trump doesn’t compile this list himself, one assumes. But it’s fair to assume that the list reflects with some accuracy the outlets that he and his administration find most valuable.
It’s important to note a key difference between Rasmussen and Sinclair. Rasmussen isn’t actively trying to promote the president; it’s just that its polling methodology consistently casts him in a more favorable light. Sinclair, by contrast, has an editorial position that supports Trump. To the president, though, the distinction is unimportant. Both Rasmussen and Sinclair make him look better than their competitors. Therefore, they are the ones that deserve praise and support.
It’s hard not to wonder how this approach of embracing only what you want to hear might pervade other aspects of Trump’s presidency. But we know the answer to that, too.