The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump has shifted the country to the left — or at least away from his own views

President Trump speaks during a campaign event Saturday in Muskegon, Mich. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Read the room, Mr. President.

After nearly four years in office, President Trump appears to be doing almost exactly the reverse of what most Americans want. On nearly every major policy issue, he has pushed the country to the left — or, at least, in the opposite direction of whatever his own stance is.

Sure, in some ways, he has reshaped the presidency and the populace in his image. He has normalized overt bigotry, for example. And he has expanded the bounds for what counts as acceptable behavior from the leader of the free world to include bullying, pathological lying and possible self-dealing.

On matters of policy, though, the reverse is true. Trump has driven Americans, including many Republicans, away from his positions. Even — perhaps especially — when it comes to the issues most central to his agenda.

Take immigration. Through xenophobic rhetoric and more than 400 executive actions, his administration has made government more anti-immigrant. But those same choices seem to have helped to make the public more pro-immigrant.

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Nearly eight in 10 Americans (77 percent) now think immigration is good for the country, the highest share since Gallup began asking this question two decades ago.

Additionally, the share of Americans who say they want increased immigration exceeds those who want it reduced — the first time this has been true since Gallup began asking in the 1960s.

Polling from Pew Research Center has found that Americans have become more likely to say that immigration strengthens rather than burdens the country, even as Trump blockades immigrants on the grounds that they drain the economy and corrupt our culture. Americans have likewise become more pro-refugee since Trump took office, even as he ratchets down refugee admissions. And they’ve become more likely to say that immigrants mostly fill jobs that U.S. citizens don’t want.

These increasingly xenophilic views have risen among Republicans as well as Democrats.

Or consider health care. Trump has relentlessly attacked the Affordable Care Act, and in the process, vastly improved the law’s popularity. A clear majority now favor the law, according to Kaiser Family Foundation polling.

Rising shares of Americans also oppose having the Supreme Court strike down the law’s protections for those with preexisting conditions; in fact, a majority of Republicans say they don’t want these protections overturned, though a lawsuit filed by 20 red states and supported by Trump seeks to do just that.

Perhaps even more striking, since Trump took office, Americans have become more likely to say that the federal government is responsible for making sure all Americans have health-care coverage, according to Pew Research Center. They’ve also become more likely to say that this should be done through a single-payer system. Here, too, Republicans have become more supportive of these positions.

The same pattern exists with trade. As Trump has clamped down on the free flow of goods and services, Americans have become more likely to say that free-trade agreements have been good for the United States.

Again, multiple surveys show this pattern cutting across party affiliation.

The Great Dealmaker, in other words, has repeatedly convinced Americans that his positions are a bad deal.

To be sure, a policy’s popularity, or lack thereof, does not necessarily translate to merit. Over the years, the public has backed plenty of policies that are morally abhorrent, constitutionally problematic, economically damaging or logistically flawed. And a politician might adopt positions at odds with his constituents because he believes they are wrong.

But Trump does not appear to be deliberately, courageously flouting the popular will as a matter of principle; rather, he has tried to pander but appears to have misjudged what the popular will actually is. He mistakenly believes that the rabidly anti-immigrant, anti-trade, anti-government fringe that shows up at his rallies represents America writ large — when in truth those pro-Trump crowds are not even representative of all Republicans.

Additionally, on some issues, Americans may have supported Trump’s stances initially, before being exposed to what they’d mean in practice. In the abstract, levying tariffs, rejecting refugees and repealing Obamacare might sound like good ideas.

Not so much, now that Trump has offered proof of concept.

Rather than using public feedback to reshape his agenda, Trump instead pays lip services to views that are the opposite of his actions.

Such is the case for his tax overhaul (which he falsely claimed would raise taxes on the rich, in accordance with public wishes); his treatment of “dreamers” (the unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children, whose popular protections Trump has been working to dismantle since 2017); the financing of Social Security (which he promises to safeguard, even as he tries to eliminate its dedicated funding stream); and pledges to “drain the swamp” (see: his lobbyist appointments and many regulatory rollbacks crafted by corporate donors).

When he can’t defend his record on the merits or the politics, Trump simply imagines it away. If only the rest of us had that option.

Read more:

Read a letter responding to this column: One of the great ironies of the Trump administration

The Post’s View: In a new term, Trump would further seal the gates of a Fortress America

Paul Waldman: Trump’s latest health-care lies reveal what a second term would look like

Greg Sargent: Trump’s health-care stance is so bad that his voters can’t believe he holds it

Jennifer Rubin: Trump put a China trade deal over American lives

Robert J. Samuelson: Trump’s tax ‘reform’ might have backfired