Trump’s numbers rise amid storm of controversy
President Trump’s approval ratings are rising, driven by a roaring economy that has dulled the effects of a White House swarmed by controversies.
Republicans remain panicked over their prospects in 2018, with angst growing that the GOP will lose its majority in the House.
Yet even as those fears grow, Trump’s numbers are getting better.
The Associated Press and CNN released new polls this week showing 42 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, up 7 percentage points each from their surveys last month.
The number is historically low for a president 14 months into his tenure, but the jump suggests Trump is at least on an upward trend even as his party fights to hold on to its majority in the House.
One Republican lawmaker this week publicly talked about rumors of Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) exit, remarks that only underlined the sense that the House is in danger of falling to the Democrats.
A few factors outside the GOP’s control have contributed to the panic, including a new legislative map for Pennsylvania that gives Democrats opportunities to win several seats.
Lawmakers also blame the bad news surrounding Trump, which they say has crowded out talk of the GOP tax overhaul.
Trump has been hammered by a torrent of negative headlines related to staff shake-ups, battles with special counsel Robert Mueller and accusations that he had extramarital affairs with an adult-film star and a Playboy model.
Trump has stepped up his attacks on Mueller, frustrating some Republicans who fear that he might fire the special counsel in an effort to halt the investigation into Russian election meddling.
Such a move would spark a bipartisan backlash against Trump that could squelch any chance Republicans have of maintaining their congressional majorities.
During that time, the president has parted ways with his secretary of State, Veterans Affairs secretary, national security adviser, top economic aide and lead outside attorney in the Russia probe, adding to the sense that Trump is consumed by chaos and incapable of staying focused on a positive message.
If only Trump would stay focused on the economy, lawmakers believe their own chances would improve.
Forty-eight percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, according to the CNN–SSRS Research poll, his highest rating on any issue. The AP survey shows that 46 percent support Trump’s tax policies.
“[Trump’s] political fortunes will rise and fall with the economy, and Republicans will have a better chance on Election Day if the economy remains strong,” said Republican operative Ryan Williams, adding that Trump could boost GOP candidates by focusing on the issue in speeches and remarks.
The improving poll numbers come amid a raft of positive signs for the U.S. economy, which grew at an even faster clip than previously thought to close out 2017.
Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the final three months of last year, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, up from a previous estimate of 2.5 percent.
The nation added 313,000 new jobs in February, according to the Labor Department, the most since July 2016. The unemployment rate remained at 4.1 percent, the lowest since 2001.
The biggest concern among Republicans is the energy they see on the left, which is materializing in massive protests in streets across the country. Democratic victories in a number of special elections nationwide since Trump’s inauguration added to their concerns.
Many in the GOP point the finger squarely at Trump as the energizing force for Democrats.
“This should be a good election for us, despite it being the first midterm for the party in power, and we have a super positive map in the Senate,” said Chris Wright, a top conservative donor and oil industry executive from Colorado. “But Trump infuriates people. He energizes the left against him and that’s the problem.”
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to win the House, and they’ve been boosted in that effort by GOP retirements.
Generic ballot polls show Democrats with about a 7-point lead, according to the RealClearPolitics average, although several polls show Democrats with a double-digit lead.
To counter that advantage, GOP candidates and outside groups plan to sell their tax overhaul between now and November in an effort to capitalize on signs that the public is warming to it.
But polling shows there is still some work to do. A CNBC All-America Economic survey released Wednesday found that 52 percent of voters say they haven’t seen a change as a result of the bill Trump signed into law late last year.
And Trump’s bump in polling comes despite a cascade of new controversies stemming from comments made by porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, who have both spoken in detail about how Trump cheated on his wife with them.
The uptick in approval has some pollsters wondering whether the president is impervious to scandals that would torpedo normal politicians.
“With Trump it’s not Teflon. The crud is so caked in, what’s more crud going to do to it?” said pollster John Zogby.
A Politico–Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found that 56 percent of registered voters believe Trump had an affair with Daniels — but almost half said it doesn’t change their view of the president.
Many of the negatives about Trump are already baked in, said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.
“There’s no question, Donald Trump is the chaos president, pretty much from the campaign through the first months of his presidency, he established that would be the pattern,” Murray said. “So in many respects, the fact that we have all these new revelations doesn’t change that voters were expecting chaos.”