The Memo: Trump shrugs off Twitter fury

The Memo: Trump shrugs off Twitter fury

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 has sparked a firestorm of outrage with his tweets about Saturday’s terrorist attack in London, as well as his controversial travel ban.

But how much the controversy will actually affect Trump’s political fortunes is more difficult to answer.

The media and Trump critics assail him for what they portray as impulsiveness, mendacity and a lack of decorum. He used the social media site to attack the Mayor of London, and lambaste his own Justice Department for pushing only a “watered down” version of the travel ban. 

Yet Trump’s support has appeared impervious to previous furors, especially those rooted in his tweets. Almost exactly a year ago, then-candidate Trump was excoriated in some quarters for a tweet after the Orlando massacre that began, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” 

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His words were widely condemned as insensitive, coming soon after 49 people had been killed. But his poll ratings showed few signs of deterioration, and rose soon afterward.

Many Republicans see the hubbub over the most recent tweets as the kind of controversy that excites political and media elites but has little resonance beyond those circles. 

“Everyday, normal people just look at this as all nonsense,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa. “We are having arguments on Twitter, about Twitter. The public that are working 9-to-5 say, ‘Wake me up when you are talking about something that matters to my life.’ ”

Other conservatives assert that the president can benefit from media overreaction. In this telling, the specifics of what Trump tweets matter less than the tendency among sympathetic voters to come to his defense when they believe the media are out to get him.

“Because the media goes nuclear over every single word, it has almost become not credible, it’s almost become white noise,” said South Carolina-based GOP strategist Hogan Gidley. 

“Every day, the report is that tomorrow the world is going to end; every day the collapse is going to occur tomorrow,” Gidley added. “But when tomorrow comes and it doesn't collapse, the people begin to discredit the messenger they heard the day before — i.e. the media.”

Still, it is telling that even most Republicans assert only that Trump’s tweets do not do him serious harm. Very few people argue that the incendiary tweets are good for him. 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.) is among those who have publicly urged the president to tweet less.

Clearly, that advice is not being taken. Trump has tangled twice with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in the days since attackers killed seven people in the British capital. 

Both times, he took out of context Khan’s use of the words that there was "no reason to be alarmed” in an interview. The mayor was urging citizens not to panic at the sight of an increased police presence. Trump took it to mean that he was saying the killing of seven people was not cause for concern.

“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’ ” Trump tweeted on Sunday morning. On Monday, after Khan had pushed back via a spokesperson, Trump jabbed again, saying “Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!”

The president’s tweets made news on both sides of the Atlantic. A British Labour Party MP, David Lammy, called Trump “a troll” and said he was demeaning the office of the president. British prime minister Theresa May defended Khan’s conduct, despite the fact that the two are members of rival parties in Thursday’s general election.

In the U.S., progressives complained that the president was diminishing America’s reputation. Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher asserted on Twitter that Trump’s “inability to behave like an adult” on the world stage was “diminishing our global standing, alienating us from allies & thus making us less safe.”

Some Democratic strategists, as well as some polling experts, have also insisted that Trump’s base is not so monolithic or unyielding as it is sometimes portrayed.

His approval ratings have gotten significantly worse over the period since his inauguration. Many more Americans now disapprove of Trump’s performance than approve — 54.4 percent to 39.7 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. The earliest days of Trump’s presidency had about the same number of people approving and disapproving.

Polling expert Nate Silver has also highlighted a sharp drop in the number of people “strongly approving” of Trump, which he takes to be a sign that the president’s base is, in fact, eroding.  

“Good reporting needs to be able to distinguish between Trump's Bannonist base (20-25% of the country) and all Trump voters (46%),” Silver tweeted on Monday.

That seepage of support is very unlikely to have one cause. Trump’s presidency has been hit by a succession of storms, including allegations of nefarious links with Russia, persistent staff in-fighting and slow progress on his legislative agenda.

His White House could face one of its most potent threats yet on Thursday when James Comey, the FBI director whom Trump fired, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Comey reportedly believes Trump tried to dissuade him from continuing his investigation into Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor. If true, such behavior would raise the specter of obstruction of justice.

Interest in Comey’s testimony may overwhelm the most recent controversy over Trump’s tweets. 

According to Democrats, Trump’s tweets are part of a larger picture.

“We are seeing impulsiveness not just in communications, like tweets, but in policy — like walking away from the Paris Accord,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. “I think those things do hurt him. Many people are disapproving now, and if a little more peel away, then the top-line number keeps coming down pretty fast.”

Referring to Trump’s base of support, Devine added, “It is not as rock solid as many people seem to think it is. It could go lower pretty quick.”

But when it comes to Twitter, at least, the president is not for turning. 

“I think social media for the President is extremely important,” principal deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders said at Monday’s White House media briefing. “It gives him the ability to speak directly to the people without the bias of the media filtering those types of communications.”

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