President Trump had a rotten month. “In the latest data from Morning Consult’s Trump Tracker, which measures the president’s approval rating in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a record low of 40 percent of voters approved of Trump and a record-high 55 percent disapproved, resulting in the worst monthly net rating of his presidency.”
The notion that Trump hasn’t suffered with his base is contradicted by a gradual erosion in polling numbers among Republicans. (“Trump’s base remained fairly solid, with 83 percent of Republicans approving of the president. But that share of support among Republicans was its lowest since September.”) Most worrisome for a president whose party commands a declining share of the electorate, “56 percent of independents disapproved of Trump during the first month of 2019, the most of any month since his Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration.”
Looking state by state with an eye toward the electoral college, Trump is underwater in key states: Minnesota (39/57), Wisconsin (40/56), Pennsylvania (43/53), Arizona (44/52), Ohio (45/51), Michigan (40/55) and North Carolina (46/50). “In all, the January data shows Trump’s net approval declined in 43 states and increased in four: Idaho, Louisiana, Georgia and New Mexico,” the polls finds. “The biggest slide came in New Hampshire, the traditional holder of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Nearly six in 10 Granite Staters (58 percent) disapproved of Trump in January — up 6 points since December — while 39 percent approved, down 4 points since the prior month.”
There are several factors to keep in mind before Democrats start planning their inaugural festivities — aside from the reminder that more than 20 months before Election Day 2020 is a poor time to declare victory.
First, Trump loses two advantages that he had in 2016 but gains one. On the one hand, high hopes for a mature president have been dashed; there was never a “pivot” (ah, good times when that was still a possibility in some minds!) and expectations of competency (run government like a business!) have been dashed. He’s no deal-maker, as voters have figured out.
However, Trump for now benefits from a strong economy, whether he deserves credit or not. So long as the economy has not hit the skids (by no means a sure bet) and no new wars have begun (not out of the realm of imagination with this president), Trump is likely to retain the overwhelming support of the GOP in the general election.
Second, Trump’s renomination is hardly a slam-dunk, in particular because Republicans can read these very same polls. The latest Monmouth poll reports, “Republican voters and independents who lean Republican are divided on whether Trump should be given a clear path to their party’s re-nomination next year. Just under half (49%) would prefer that Trump run unopposed while 43% would like to see him face a primary challenge.” That’s an astounding number of Republicans — in a good economy, with two Supreme Court nominees under their belts — willing to dump Trump.
Three, Democrats have the opportunity to set records for primary turnout in a race with no predetermined winner. The more the GOP attempts to foreclose challengers, the less interest their primaries will generate. The impact on the number of engaged voters with one competitive, exciting race and one coronation could be substantial.
Finally, Trump is singularly inept — uninterested, actually — at broadening his base of support or winning back disaffected voters. Provided Democrats do not nominate someone who turns off a substantial share of the electorate (no slam-dunk), they have a pool of available voters they did not enjoy in 2016.
In short, Trump is failing. The question remains whether Democrats can avoid screwing up. One need look no further than Virginia to understand that remains a not-insignificant possibility.