Over the past few weeks, President Trump’s poll numbers have plummeted as voters begin to connect his frighteningly unstable conduct with economic decline. It’s one thing to ignore Trump’s tweets when the economy is fine; it’s quite another when the trade war is casting a pall over the economy and one harebrained foreign policy idea after another (the Taliban can come to Camp David?) is tossed about, and yet another senior foreign policy figure departs.
The Post-ABC News poll (showing Trump’s approval at 38 percent and disapproval at 56 percent) released on Tuesday is not an outlier. CNN’s latest poll shows 39 percent approve and 55 percent disapprove of his performance.
Moreover, “The 60% who say the President does not deserve to be reelected is similar to the 63% who felt that way in November 2017. That outpaces his most recent predecessors at a similar stage in their presidencies.” In both polls, approval of his handling of the economy has declined. And Trump’s mean-spirited immigration policy is costing more than it is helping: “The President’s approval rating for handling immigration has held roughly steady, but the 59% who currently disapprove is numerically the highest since just before last year’s midterm elections. A majority (52%) say Trump’s policies on immigration do too much to limit immigration to the US, 24% consider them about right and 20% say they do not go far enough,” CNN says.
Trump’s rotten numbers raise a number of questions.
First, does anyone outside the White House and Fox News studios think the economy is going to get better before the election or that Trump’s behavior is going to become more normal? It remains to be seen whether there is any more room for him to sink or whether those still with him are the dead-enders. Nevertheless, it is very likely that Trump’s numbers won’t be any better a year from now.
Second, no matter how screwy you think the electoral college is, there is no model whereby the president can lose the popular vote by double digits (as he does against former vice president Joe Biden in most polls) but wins the electoral college. Simply put, if Trump doesn’t pull off a miraculous comeback — which remains possible — he will lose, and quite possibly by a lot.
For comparison sake, President Barack Obama won by a little more than 7 percent of the popular vote in 2008. That translated to a 365-to-173 win in the electoral college. If you want to go back to 1992, President Bill Clinton won by about 5.5 percent in the popular vote. With independent Ross Perot in the race, Clinton’s electoral vote margin was 370 to 168.
That brings us back to the nettlesome electability issue. If this keeps up, every Democrat on the debate stage Thursday could possibly win. The Post-ABC News poll, for example, shows Biden leading by 15 points, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leading by 9 and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) up by 7 each. If that result is duplicated elsewhere, the voters searching for the “safe” nominee might find that several contenders fit the bill.
Finally, if we are talking about a win of 5 percent or 7 percent or more for Democrats at the top of the ticket, winning back the House (already unlikely) becomes virtually impossible for Republicans. Given the unfavorable map for Republicans — with seats up in swing states such as Colorado, Maine and North Carolina — the potential for loss of the Senate majority becomes very possible. Should Democrats nominate for president someone who could pull in a formerly red state (e.g., Arizona, Texas, Georgia), then even more Senate states might be in play.
This is what the political landscape looks like right now. It cannot be said enough times that a few months, let alone 14 months, is a lifetime in politics. The economy could rebound, Trump could rack up a legitimate foreign policy win and Democrats could pick a truly vulnerable candidate, in which case Democrats could blow one of the most winnable races in history. I’d rather have money on the Democrats in this one, but after 2016, none of us should pretend to have a crystal ball.