Administration

Trump slump fuels GOP fears

President Trump's approval rating has fallen in a series of recent polls, fueling concerns among Republicans that an already dire election season is turning worse at precisely the wrong time.

A new CNN poll found Trump's approval plummeted 6 points over the past month to just 36 percent, and more than half a dozen other nonpartisan surveys showed a similar downward path.

In the RealClearPolitics polling average, Trump's approval rating has dropped nearly 2.5 percentage points over the past three weeks while his disapproval has risen almost 2 points.

Pollsters and strategists say the numbers are particularly unusual because the president's approval ratings have suffered even as the economy has thrived.

Trump's approval rating - 41 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics average - still sits close to where it has been for most of this year, but Republicans fear an even more precipitous drop could spell doom for House and Senate candidates across the country in an election season that is defined by the president.  

"The further south it goes, the more worrisome it becomes," said Whit Ayers, a GOP pollster who has advised Senate and House candidates for decades.

Inside the White House, officials have long acknowledged there is a good chance the House could change hands in November.

But they privately scoff at predictions of certain doom and gloom for Republicans, pointing to Trump's surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election despite his poor favorability ratings.

Trump's job approval has sunk for weeks at a time, only to rebound back above the 40-percent mark.

"Republicans are in a hole. We just don't know how big of a hole it is," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "There are some signs indicating it is starting to get worse. But we haven't seen that trend line for long enough to say it won't bounce back like it has in the past."

Roughly 45 percent of voters approved of former President Obama's job performance in the days leading up to the 2010 midterms, when Republicans wiped out Democrats' House majority.

GOP strategists said it would be ideal for Trump's numbers to climb back near that threshold. If they remain in the 30s, they say it is bad news for Republicans.

People close to the president argue he will not be to blame if the GOP loses control of the House in November.  

There is frustration on Trump's political team about the poor fundraising totals by Republican lawmakers, according to sources familiar with the situation. Last quarter's numbers showed 56 GOP House incumbents were outraised by their Democratic challengers. 

Trump's advisers also believe that the decision to retire by 41 House Republicans has put the party on extremely difficult footing heading into the midterms. 

It's not entirely clear why Trump's numbers have fallen in recent weeks, though the president did have a brutal August that ended with the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on charges of bank and tax fraud, and the guilty plea by his former personal attorney Michael Cohen on charges related to money paid after two women said they had affairs with Trump.

Trump then endured a week of negative headlines related to his response to the death of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), including a decision to not immediately order the White House flag to remain at half-staff for the former Vietnam prisoner of war and GOP presidential nominee.

Just last week, Trump dealt with a scathing op-ed purportedly written by a senior official within his administration that said a cabal of Trump officials were resisting his worst impulses from within the White House. And that story came a day after the first excerpts were released from a damning new book on his presidency by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward.

Trump is seeing his numbers fall at a time when polls are underlining the challenging environment Republicans are facing in House races.

A Monmouth University survey released Monday of eight bellwether congressional districts in California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia found voter support almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

The problem for Republicans is that the GOP has routinely won each of the eight districts by double-digit margins in recent elections.

Elected Republicans have made comments that indicate they are seeing the electoral environment worsen in a way that could put the Senate majority in play.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday warned that the GOP is facing a "storm" as it tries to keep control of the Senate. That assessment comes weeks after many election handicappers said the upper chamber was unlikely to change hands.

"We're talking about Texas now, and we weren't doing that a month ago," said Republican strategist Doug Heye, referring to Sen. Ted Cruz's (R) reelection bid. "You can't deny the atmosphere Republicans are running in is tremendously negative."

Strategists and pollsters watching the 2018 race say that Trump's approval ratings could turn around before voters begin casting ballots. Many believe the GOP can still stave off a Democratic wave even at their current levels.  

Almost half of respondents approve of Trump's handling of the economy in the CNN poll, far outstripping the percentage of those who say he is doing a good job overall.

And while Trump's approval rating among independents hit a new low in that survey, more than 80 percent of Republicans still approve of his job performance.

"Because this is likely going to be a base voter election, the fact that Republicans are really enthusiastic to get out there is what will make a difference in November," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.

The president's supporters also believe that right-track, wrong-track numbers will be a better predictor of Republicans' performance in the midterm. More than 39 percent of Americans believe the country is on the right track, roughly 10 points higher than past wave elections. 

The president faces another leadership challenge this week with Hurricane Florence bearing down on the East Coast.

Trump took a hit in the polls last October for his response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. His average approval rating sunk below 40 percent in the days following the storm in late September, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

A poor performance on Florence could make things worse, though a good response could help Trump rebound once again - something he has done before.

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