That last comment is a reference to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whose vote to convict Trump on the abuse of power charge was the first Senate vote against a president of the senator’s own party in American history. Trump decided that Romney’s was only half a vote against him since he voted to acquit on the other article of impeachment. Ergo: “almost 53 to nothing.”
But notice what Trump does here. While emphasizing the importance of bipartisanship, he discusses how “we” voted, meaning solely members of his own party. He skips over the fact that the vote to convict him on the first article of impeachment included votes from Democrats, independents and Romney. What matters is that “we” voted the way Trump wants.
As Trump departed the White House for an event in North Carolina on Friday, he was asked how he planned to unify the country in the wake of the impeachment fight.
“How do you unify the country?” a reporter asked. “How do you unify the country in this moment? You’re attacking your rivals — ”
Trump jumped in.
“You know what’s going to unify the country? And it’s already unified in a lot of ways,” he said. “All you have to do is look at our crowds and look at our support. What unifies it is the great success. Our country today is more successful than it has ever been. And that’s unifying the country.”
Trump makes two claims. The first is that the country is unified, as demonstrated by his support. The second is that the country’s success is unifying by itself.
That second point is a crux of Trump’s political thinking, although it’s not clear in the abstract how that success, measured primarily by the consistently good economy, plays a unifying role. Part of what prompted Trump’s comment is that Gallup has his approval at a high for his presidency, though it’s still at only 49 percent. Half disapprove. Even after what Trump likes to describe as the three best years of a presidency in history, America is still deeply polarized politically, which, of course, is what the reporter was asking about.
This conflation of economic success with imminent political support, though, is a recurring theme for Trump. On Thursday, we articulated how Trump sees economic factors — low unemployment, for example — as being an inherent rationale for black Americans to support his reelection. But black voters largely don’t think Trump deserves credit for the low unemployment numbers, almost certainly in part because they are broadly skeptical of Trump’s presidency. The heavy majority of black voters think Trump’s presidency has been bad for black Americans and that Trump himself is racist. Seeing unemployment drop a few percentage points won’t do much to offset that.
This gets to the trigger for the question itself. Trump often uses language and rhetoric that alienates those who don’t already like him. He’s been very effective at building loyalty and enthusiasm from his base, in part because he doesn’t moderate the way he speaks to appeal to a broader swath of the country. Black voters and Democrats distrust Trump because he often actively works to undermine the things they support. That the economy has been on a good run for a while doesn’t change that.
But now we get back to the first part of his response and his response to the impeachment vote. Trump thinks America is unified. Why, just look at his campaign rallies! Every single one of the people who spend an evening packing a small arena to cheer for Trump supports Trump. If that ain’t unity, what is? Every single Republican except for some sore loser worried about “religion” had Trump’s back there, too. Talk about unity!
“They say the spirit — the spirit for the Republican Party right now is stronger, I think, than it’s ever been in the history of our country,” Trump said Wednesday. “I think it’s stronger than it’s ever been. And that includes Honest Abe Lincoln.”
Trump often depicts his Democratic opponents as blinded by rage and standing in his way solely out of spite. His is a presidency that takes its cues from conservative media through and through, including a disinclination to share — or even consider, it sometimes seems — more moderate points of view. So he just waves away anything other than wild applause as insincere or unworthy of consideration. The Trump train is departing the station and if you want to get on, you can. If you don’t? Well, your loss.
When he announced his candidacy in 2015, Trump stumbled onto a back door in American politics that experienced politicians had never noticed. He seized attention in the crowded primary by echoing hard-right arguments from Breitbart and Fox News, said things that other politicians wouldn’t say in part because they understood that you weren’t supposed to. In part that was because it was believed that saying them would be politically problematic. In part it was out of a belief that leading meant building some sort of viable consensus.
Trump showed that it wasn’t really problematic, since you could build a big, loud core of support that would help keep other Republicans in line. He showed, too, that you could be a president who didn’t worry about consensus. You might not ever hit 50 percent approval, but you don’t need 50 percent of the vote to win reelection anyway.
So we land where Trump was as he boarded Marine One on Friday. America is unified because Trump is popular with his base and his party. If you’re not in his party or in his base, well, you’re probably still leaning that direction because of the economy.
This isn’t a unified country, but campaign strategy. For Trump, that’s good enough.