Opinion writer

One big political question of the moment is this: With large majorities of the American people seemingly content with the economy, how much of the credit for it are they giving to President Trump?

Trump himself recently floated this question, without quite meaning to. “When you have the best economy probably that we’ve ever had,” Trump said, “how the hell do you lose this election, right?”

How the hell indeed?

A new Quinnipiac poll finds really good numbers on the economy: 51 percent of voters say the state of the economy is good, and another 19 percent say it’s excellent — a total of 70 percent who rate the economy positively.

At the same time, however, only 41 percent say Trump deserves credit for the good economy, while 27 percent rate the economy positively but say that Trump does not deserve credit for it. (The rest say the economy isn’t good.)

This might help explain why the poll also finds that Trump’s overall approval rating is mired at 42 percent, and why it shows all the leading Democrats beating Trump in head-to-head match-ups. Joe Biden leads by 13 points; Bernie Sanders is ahead by 9 points; Kamala Harris leads by 8 points; and Elizabeth Warren is ahead by 7 points.

This suggests the possibility, as I’ve argued before, that voter impressions of the economy have come unmoored from voter sentiment about Trump’s specific economic policies.

Take trade, for instance. Quinnipiac polling last month found that only 39 percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of trade, versus 53 percent who disapprove; only 40 percent approve of the way Trump is handling policy towards China, versus 50 percent who disapprove; and only 40 percent say Trump’s trade policies are good for the U.S. economy vs. 48 percent who say they’re bad.

Meanwhile, many recent polls have found that Trump’s tax cut, whose benefits went overwhelmingly to corporations and the wealthy, is unpopular.

This has created an interesting situation: Trumpism represents a fusion of nationalist lurches in some directions (on trade and immigration) with more conventional GOP plutocracy in others (the tax cut, the failed effort to roll back health coverage for millions).

But both of these elements of Trumpism have proved deeply unpopular. The trade policies are under water. The 2018 elections were all about Trump’s immigration policies and tax cut (both of which Trump and Republicans worked hard to push to the forefront) and the failed Obamacare repeal effort (which Democrats relentlessly pushed forward), yet Republicans suffered the biggest House wipe-out since Watergate.

Now we’re seeing new convergences of all these things. Two studies recently showed that Trump’s tariffs are threatening to wipe out whatever gains ordinary Americans got from the tax cuts, illustrating both the destructive impact of his trade wars and the meagerness of those gains.

The big dust-up with Mexico is also a case in point. Trump has backed off his tariff threat for now, but this was a clear area in which Trump’s various nationalist impulses both got entangled with one another (Trump threatened a trade war as a bludgeon to get his way on immigration) and threatened to damage the economy.

And as Josh Kraushaar notes, the Mexico battle illustrates a larger problem — that Trump is still seeking to thrill his base at all costs, even if it imperils the economy, and without trying to broaden his appeal beyond his core voters.

Tellingly, the new Quinnipiac poll finds that only 41 percent approve of Trump’s handling of policy toward Mexico vs. 55 percent who disapprove.

Some other numbers from Quinnipiac also illustrate Kraushaar’s point. If Trump is to win reelection, he’ll need to prevent the kinds of defections he saw from constituencies such as college-educated whites and independents that took place in 2018. It’s often suggested that the way this might happen is if they conclude the economy is good and decide they’d rather stomach Trump’s excesses than take a chance on a change in course.

But what if those voters don’t credit Trump for the economy they like?

Indeed, among those constituencies, the dynamic I’m talking about is quite pronounced. Eighty percent of college-educated whites rate the economy positively — but only 44 percent of them give Trump credit. Sixty-five percent of independents rate the economy positively — but only 34 percent of them give Trump credit.

That’s a glaring disconnect. And if it persists, it’s likely to make Trump’s reelection more difficult.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Trump’s worldview is failing spectacularly. Several new studies illustrate how.

Catherine Rampell: Happy 10th birthday to the economic expansion. Don’t count on an 11th.

Jennifer Rubin: Trump’s trade war ‘victory’ isn’t fooling anyone