The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion As Trump slides in new poll, he retreats deeper into Fox News fantasyland

A new Post-ABC News poll finds that most Americans believe President Trump is failing spectacularly by many different metrics. Large majorities say he doesn’t have the temperament to be president; lack confidence that he’ll make the right decisions for the country’s future; and (this one will really sting) say he isn’t good at making deals.

At the same time, new reporting indicates that Trump’s media and political allies are working overtime to erect a protective bubble around Trump, one designed to prevent him from grasping the most basic political realities of the moment.

This effort has two goals: To create an alternative narrative that portrays Trump’s cave in the shutdown fight as a sign that he holds a strengthened hand, which in turn is designed to gird him to refuse real compromise in the next round of talks.

Needless to say, the poll numbers showing Trump cratering amid his handling of the shutdown will not pierce that bubble. And that makes a disastrous outcome in the next round more likely.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

First, let’s look at the new Post-ABC polling. Some highlights:

  • 57 percent rate Trump’s handling of border security negatively, a remarkable indictment of Trump on his signature issue.
  • 61 percent say Trump is not honest or trustworthy.
  • 58 percent say Trump lacks the personality and temperament to serve effectively as president.
  • 56 percent say Trump has not brought needed change to Washington.
  • 65 percent say Trump does not understand the problems of people like them.
  • 58 percent say Trump is not good at making political deals.
  • 64 percent do not have a lot of confidence that Trump will make the right decisions for the country’s future.

A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll reports similar findings across the board.

There are a few bright spots in the Post-ABC poll, but even these are tempered. Fifty-one percent rate Trump’s handling of job creation positively (but 56 percent say he’s done a not-good or poor job in helping the middle class). And 50 percent rate his handling of terrorism positively (but 54 percent rate his handling of international crises negatively). The bottom line is that sizable to large majorities appear to be concluding that he just can’t do the job.

Conservatives urge Trump to declare emergency

Conservative outlets and commentators had many thoughts on the end of the longest government shutdown in history. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Now look at what’s happening behind the scenes with Trump, as congressional Democrats and Republicans prepare for the next round: conference negotiations over a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security. Trump still wants his $5.7 billion in wall funding, which Democrats are rejecting.

So Trump is preparing a Plan C. The Post reports that Trump privately told advisers over the weekend that declaring a national emergency may still be his best way forward, if Democrats don’t give him that wall money. There’s also this:

One White House official described Trump’s decision to reopen the government as “clearing the deck” for executive action rather than a retreat. And a longtime confidant said Trump has grown increasingly frustrated by news coverage of his concession to Democrats and has been encouraged by conservative allies to escalate the fight.

The Post also reports that Trump privately raged over Democrats’ refusal to bend to his will, leading him to consult the White House counsel’s office about the legal repercussions of declaring a national emergency. White House officials say Trump believes this threat will pressure Democrats to buckle over the wall. Trump even privately sought advice about the negotiations from … Fox Business host Lou Dobbs.

All of this is rather unsettling. Trump had to back down in the last round of the shutdown fight because Democrats now control the House, which means that if Trump wants them to give him more funding for border barriers, he must give them actual concessions, not the fake concessions he offered that turned out to be dramatic restrictions on asylum seeking.

But the narrative that has been created for Trump’s (and his followers’) consumption to explain what’s happening right now is that he is shrewdly and strategically regrouping to do this alone if Democrats refuse once again to unilaterally capitulate to him.

Trump is stuck in Foxlandia

That Trump is consulting Dobbs for private advice about how to proceed — even as he craters in polls — perfectly captures the folly and delusion consuming this presidency at this particular moment. Trump watches Fox obsessively for validation, and he has very likely seen Dobbs tell him that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “whipped” him in the shutdown battle; that his only route forward is to declare a national emergency; and that recent leaks about the Russia probe were really about distracting the public from Democratic opposition to Trump’s wall, as if that’s somehow an unpopular position that Democrats fear holding.

In this mythology, the political threat to Trump does not come from the mounting legal travails he faces (all of that is a hoax and a witch hunt) or from Trump’s malicious and deeply destructive shutdown for the sake of his deeply unpopular wall. Rather, the real political danger to Trump always comes from his failure to fight hard enough, whether it’s failing to close down special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, or failing to do whatever it takes — declare a national emergency, shut down the government until the end of time — to ensure that he gets the wall without giving up anything that might perturb his base in the slightest.

But if Trump did accept that Democrats now control the House, and thus must be offered genuine concessions in exchange for giving him what he wants, Trump probably could get more money for something that fits his latest description of the wall, which he has now downgraded to “steel barriers in high-priority locations.”

Alas, in Foxlandia, there is as much space for an acknowledgment of these new power realities in Washington as there is for an acknowledgment of the polls showing him cratering. In Foxlandia, Trump always has all the hidden leverage, and if only he’d just exercise it, a glorious victory would follow — entirely on Trump’s own terms.


Washington Post editors share new details of the high-stakes global effort to free reporter Jason Rezaian from an Iranian prison. (Video: Joy Sharon Yi, Kate Woodsome, Danielle Kunitz, Sarah Hashemi, Osman Malik, Atthar Mirza, William Neff/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Trump is trapped and tanking

Jennifer Rubin: Has Trump tired of being bashed on the shutdown?

Greg Sargent: Trump’s phony ‘compromise’ has now been unmasked as a total sham

Greg Sargent: Trump’s position is weakening fast. Here’s how Democrats can exploit that.