Trump embraces his critics’ outrage

Trump embraces his critics’ outrage
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE’s first two weeks in office have been met with protests, outrage and indignation — and that doesn’t bother his supporters a bit. 

Trump’s backers see the blizzard of criticism as proof that he is doing exactly what he said he would: take a wrecking ball to the conventions of Washington. 

“He is a bull in a china shop,” said GOP strategist John Feehery, a Trump supporter who is also a columnist for The Hill. “But people knew that when they let him in the china shop. They wanted the china shop torn asunder.” 

Skeptics caution that Trump’s embrace of controversy is a dangerous game. He is trying to ride the turbulent currents of political polarization, they say — and those currents could just as easily capsize his presidency as carry him to greater success.  

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“He is doubling down, and I think the reaction on the part of those who are not favorably oriented toward him is going to harden,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University.

Within the past 48 hours alone, details have emerged of a tempestuous phone call Trump had with the Australian prime minister; he has encouraged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) to use the “nuclear option” if necessary to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch; and he has suggested that federal funds should be withheld from colleges whose students engage in civil disorder. 

And if that were not enough, he used an appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning to throw barbs at Arnold Schwarzenegger for the TV ratings of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” the reality show in which Trump once played the starring role. 

“I want to just pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings,” Trump told the attendees.

Every one of those actions has elicited pushback of some kind.

As of Thursday evening, two Republican senators, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE of Arizona and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFormer Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report McConnell 'almost certain' GOP will pass tax reform Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' MORE of Tennessee, had called the Australian ambassador to the U.S., seeking to reassure him of the strength of the long-standing alliance between the two nations. Even top Trump adviser Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus met with Ambassador Joe Hockey Thursday. 

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sean Spicer emphasized that the president’s jab at Schwarzenegger should not be taken too seriously.  

“He meant it as a lighthearted moment,” Spicer told reporters during a press briefing.

Trump’s backers are adamant that the voters who put him in the White House could care less about diplomatic niceties or Washington protocol. 

“I think the American people, especially those that voted for Trump, see him not just as a change agent but as somebody who is really going to shake things up,” said Greg Mueller, a conservative strategist whose firm has worked with Trump nominees during their confirmation process. 

Top White House aide Stephen Miller said this week that the widespread protests against him prove that Trump is taking on the status quo.

"I think anytime you do anything hugely successful that challenges a failed orthodoxy, you're going to see protests," Miller said on "CBS This Morning."

"In fact, if nobody is disagreeing with what you're doing, then you're probably not doing anything that really matters in the scheme of things." 

Trump’s penchant for combativeness and his reluctance to ever back down have characterized his long career in the public eye. But Bannon is apparently fanning those tendencies. The former Breitbart executive’s own public pronouncements often describe politics using the lexicon of warfare.

The Bannon-Trump bet is that roaring full-steam ahead will pay political dividends. Each seems to relish having foils against which they can contrast themselves. Both men have called the media “the opposition party.” Bannon has been a longtime foe of the GOP establishment in Washington, and Trump won the party nomination in the face of its disdain.

Their approach could work. It seems incontestable that reaching out to the center ground is not as important as it once was in American politics. There is voluminous data pointing to ever-increasing polarization. A Pew Research Center study published last year showed that the share of Republicans and Democrats who hold a “very unfavorable” view of the other party has roughly tripled since the mid-1990s.

But whether Trump and conservatives win by maintaining a confrontational posture at all times is much less certain. It is equally possible, given his loss in the popular vote in November, that the raw numbers are on his opponents’ side.

Trump’s most controversial action to date was the executive order that temporarily halted all refugee entry to the United States, as well as suspending most travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the U.S.

A Gallup poll published Thursday showed a clear majority disapproving of Trump’s actions, 55 percent to 42 percent. But a Reuters poll released the previous day delivered a very different verdict: 49 percent agreeing with Trump’s course against 41 percent disagreeing.

More broadly, Trump is the least popular new president since polling began. A poll from Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling released on Thursday indicated that 40 percent of voters already want to impeach the 45th president. 

The protests that followed his inauguration, and which erupted again in the wake of his executive order on immigration, showed how much energy is on the side of his opponents. 

Team Trump, still emboldened by his shock election win, believe “the forgotten men and women” are on his side. 

It is to those people that the president’s words and actions are geared, however much resistance they engender elsewhere

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.