The Memo: Trump base shows signs of cracking

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE’s previously resilient base is showing signs of cracking.

A new Reuters/IPSOS tracking poll, released Friday afternoon, showed the president with a job approval rating of 75 percent among Republicans. 

Political professionals generally view it as worrying for any commander-in-chief if his approval ratings with his own party dip below 85 percent — and downright alarming if they go below 80 percent.

“Seventy-five [percent] is certainly a new number and I would want to see something that would either back that up or refute it,” said GOP pollster David Winston, whose resumé includes work for former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). “Certainly, if it were true, that is not where you would want to be.”

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While the IPSOS result was especially bad for Trump, it was not so far outside of the norm as to be a true outlier. 

A Monmouth University poll earlier in the week put Trump at 83 percent approval among Republicans, as did an Economist/YouGov poll. All or most of the responses for both surveys were, unlike the Reuters poll, gathered before a special counsel was appointed to look into allegations of collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

Low poll ratings are not a new problem for Trump. Nor have they always doomed him. 

He won the White House despite the worst favorability ratings of any nominee of a major party in history. Head-to-head polls with Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic Socialists of America endorses Sanders for president How to end the Electoral College and elect our next president by popular vote CNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary MORE also suggested he was headed for defeat. Even now, the president relishes reminding audiences of how wrong the pollsters were.

Trump has often taken solace from his belief that the people who backed him last November will stand by him, despite what he views as a sustained media campaign against him.

On Wednesday, in the eye of the storm over his firing of FBI director James Comey and revelations that he may have revealed classified information in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Kremlin’s ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, Trump defended himself in a a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Ct. 

“The people understand what I’m doing, and that’s the most important thing,” he said, “I didn’t get elected to serve the Washington media or special interests. I got elected to serve the forgotten men and women of our country, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Some Republican observers beyond the Beltway agree, at least to some degree, that the likely effects of the recent furors on Trump’s base may be exaggerated.

“I think there are reasons for Republicans to be concerned, obviously, but I don’t know if we can say definitively at this point what the reaction is going to be,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa.

“I would imagine there would have to be some sort of shrinkage in his support but I don’t think it is substantial — I think a lot of those people will give him the benefit of the doubt,” Robinson added. “It’s not as if there is an alternative, some other president they can be invested in.”

Trump has also declared that he is the victim of a “witch hunt.” The charge may resonate to some extent with his base, but even broadly sympathetic observers worry that it distracts from the factors that got him elected.

“Here’s the problem that the White House and Trump are running into: He was basically elected to deal with the economy and you saw that in the Rust Belt specifically: the economy, jobs and wages,” said Winston. “The challenge is that everything is off on a topic that has nothing to do with that.”

Trump’s base is already showing more signs of erosion than was the case with his predecessor, President Obama. In four major polls taken in May of Obama’s first year in office — 2009 — his approval rating among Democrats was pegged at between 88 and 93 percent. Trump lags that performance by about 10 points in the most recent surveys.

The bad news has kept coming for the president. Friday afternoon brought two damaging stories published within minutes. 

First, the New York Times reported that Trump had described Comey as a “nutjob” in his meeting with Russian officials. The Times also reported that Trump had told his visitors, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Then the Washington Post reported that the investigation into alleged chicanery involving the Trump campaign and Russia had “identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest.” This person, the Post added, “is someone close to the president.”

Liberal critics, the media and a handful of Republicans have begun to mention the dreaded “i-word”: Impeachment. But even most of Trump’s GOP critics don’t believe he has seen a collapse of base support sufficient to make that a real possibility— yet.

“Right now it is unlikely because, as a first step, there has to be a massive leakage of support for Trump in Republican districts,” said Peter Wehner, a Trump critic who served in the administrations of the three Republican presidents who preceded him. “Republicans in the House aren’t going to screw up the courage they need to take on Trump unless there is support for it in their home districts.”

Still, if Trump keeps bleeding support among Republicans, his troubles will only become graver.

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