While President Trump's approval ratings are pretty low in general, he remains popular with some of the demographic groups who sent him to the White House. He has rewarded them by emphasizing issues that get them fired up: immigration and patriotism, to name two.
But you always hurt the ones you love the most, as the saying goes. And several recent comments suggest that the president holds some condescending views about the people who carried him to victory, and that he questions whether their loyalty is sufficient.
At a rally on Thursday in Montana, a state that he won by 20 points in 2016, Trump, whose scandal-ridden presidency dominates news headlines, suggested that if he is impeached — something that some Democratic lawmakers have advocated — it would not be because of his actions or those of his administration, but instead that his supporters would be the ones to blame.
He told the crowd:
I don’t even like to bring it up, the impeach word, But I say, how can you impeach somebody who has done a great job? Who hasn’t done anything wrong? Our economy is good. How do you do it?
It is so ridiculous, but we will worry about that, it never happens. But if it does happen, it’s your fault because you did not go out and vote. You didn’t go out to vote — that’s the only way it could happen. I’ll be the only president in history they’ll say: ‘What a job he’s done! By the way, we’re impeaching him.’
It was said jokingly and didn't attract much notice, but it contained a hint that Trump was preparing to cast blame elsewhere should he have to face a more adversarial Congress next year. That he's even worried about it shows he realizes some things have changed since his campaign created die-hard supporters across the country.
"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he said at a campaign rally in Iowa in 2016, showing a remarkable level of both confidence in and condescension toward his supporters.
The Montana rally came near the end of a mostly terrible week for Trump.
Earlier in the week, a book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward suggested that Trump, who won most Southern states, does not think too highly of Americans who speak with Southern accents. The New York City native also appeared to be dismissive of the rural South.
The Post reported that in the book, Trump is revealed to regularly criticize his rural Alabama-born attorney general, Jeff Sessions, including by saying, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. . . . He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
The reporting backs up other reports previously mentioned in The Fix that claim that Sessions, because of his Southern, working-class background, was further fueling Trump's annoyance with him. According to Politico:
If Sessions’ recusal [from the Russia investigation] was his original sin, Trump has come to resent him for other reasons, griping to aides and lawmakers that the attorney general doesn’t have the Ivy League pedigree the president prefers, that he can’t stand his Southern accent and that Sessions isn’t a capable defender of the president on television — in part because he “talks like he has marbles in his mouth,” the president has told aides.
Those examples were said behind closed doors, so it's hard to discern too much context. But generally, those who put stock in stereotypes don't extend them to just one member of a group. For a politician who overwhelmingly won the votes of working-class Americans from the rural South, Trump's alleged mocking of Sessions — one of the first members of Congress to get behind Trump's campaign — would normally seem like an unwise move for someone needing that continued level of support.
The Thursday comment was met with awkward laughter, but for many it has come to symbolize just how devoted some voters are to Trump, no matter how low his regard for them. Those supporters would probably argue, as they have on other issues, that what Trump says and his not-always-polite tone matter less than the policies he pursues.
Publicly, Trump has professed love for his base, and it's obvious that he basks in their adoration. He even claimed once, while campaigning in Nevada, to “love the poorly educated.”
Most politicians would be afraid to mock their supporters' academic background or geographical roots. But Trump is often credited by those who make the cable news circuit to show their support for him that he knows his base. And to some it appears that he knows them so well that he can get away with saying things about them that most cannot.