The Memo: Dems grapple with Trump’s resilience

President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE’s approval rating is largely unchanged in the first polls to emerge after his widely criticized performance at last week’s joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and Democrats are scratching their heads.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday showed Trump’s approval rating rising to 45 percent, his highest level in that poll since taking office. And an Economist/YouGov survey showed no significant deviation from Trump’s numbers the previous week.

The polls included some responses before and some after Trump’s July 16 news conference with Putin in Helsinki, meaning it’s possible that a more pronounced negative impact could show up in the next wave of polls. But there is no evidence of such an effect so far.

ADVERTISEMENT

Democratic explanations for Trump’s resiliency encompass several factors: the strength of the economy; his voters’ tendency to discount negative press coverage as a product of the “fake news media”; and the visceral connection he enjoys with his base, partly because of his willingness to press cultural hot buttons relating to race, immigration and related issues.


But Democrats also argue that Trump’s base is not big enough to bring sustained electoral success, either in November’s midterm elections or in his 2020 reelection race.

Robert Shrum, a Democratic strategist who has worked at a senior level of several presidential campaigns, said pundits were failing to emphasize how Trump’s approval ratings have been low by historical standards.

“If another president had these numbers, his political people would be very worried about it,” Shrum said. “He only cares about his base and, if you look at polls in general, they are in deep trouble for the 2018 election.”

Different findings even within the same polls can lead to very different conclusions, however.

In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for example, the share of Americans who said they strongly approve of Trump, 29 percent, was far outweighed by the 44 percent who strongly disapprove.

That should mean Democrats can expect much greater intensity among their base — a factor that could be vital since Democratic-leaning voting blocs tend to turn out less reliably in midterm elections than in presidential contests.

On the other hand, the same poll showed that the Democrats’ lead in the so-called generic ballot — where voters nationwide are asked which party they would prefer to control Congress — had shrunk to 6 percentage points. This is a notable slippage from the 10-point advantage the party enjoyed just a month before.

To some observers, that calls into question the idea of a “blue wave” that might sweep Democrats into power in the House or the Senate after November — even if few independent voices back the president’s claim, made on Twitter last month, that there might be a “Red Wave” for Republicans instead.

Among Democrats, there is a continued faith that things will go their way in November. 

Tad Devine, who served as a senior adviser to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersProtecting democracy requires action from all of us Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Amazon probes allegations of employees leaking data for bribes: report MORE’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, said he believed a takeover of both the House and Senate was a real possibility for Democrats. 

“The intensity is there. Democratic voters are paying a lot more attention, they are a lot more interested in participating,” Devine said. He added that the party did not need to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to framing the election.

“It’s not some big single message,” he said. “We have candidates who are different, unique — what kind of race do we want to run in each district?”

Many Democrats also emphasize the significant swath of the voting public that appears alienated — perhaps permanently — from Trump. 

His polarizing approach, they say, makes him more enemies than friends. The effect could be to the detriment of his party.

Referring to Trump’s conduct during the news conference with Putin, and in the days afterward, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi said, “The 55 or 56 percent who say they disapprove of him? I think this really locks that in … This last nine, 10 days or so makes it much tougher for a Republican candidate for Congress to pull them back.”

Opinions diverge as to why Trump himself commands such strong loyalty from his base of support.

Shrum argued that the economic factors were much less relevant than other, gut-level responses.

“I just think there is a deep emotional investment in him by a shrinking Republican Party,” Shrum said, “He speaks to the politics of resentment, he speaks to the anxieties — though I think his remedies are absurd — of people who think they have been left behind, and so they don’t want to give up on him.”

Devine argued that the strong economy played its part as “protective armor” for Trump — but he asserted that an anti-media reflex is also part of the picture.

“Usually the battles are between the Democrats and the Republicans, but in Trump’s case it is himself and the press,” he said. “That’s the battle, and he is delivering these messages to people in his base, and they are responding to it.”

Devine also asserted that support for Trump was more complicated than the headline figures from a poll suggest.

Research from focus groups or voter interviews, he asserted, would reveal “they don’t really like the way Trump has handled himself but they also think he is being attacked unfairly and all this other stuff.”

For the moment, however, the idea of a Trump collapse looks increasingly unrealistic, at least in the short term.

That’s giving his opponents, as well as his supporters, plenty of food for thought.

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