The Memo: ‘Trump fatigue’ spells trouble for president
Has America finally grown tired of President Trump?
Tuesday night’s presidential debate drew bad reviews from across the political and media spectrum. Trump’s conduct — interrupting frequently, arguing with the moderator and making highly personalized attacks on his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden — was widely criticized as boorish.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) implicitly rebuked Trump for his failure to repudiate the far-right Proud Boys group.
McConnell cited comments by the Senate’s only Black Republican, Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), who had urged Trump to “correct” remarks calling for the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
McConnell told reporters that Scott had “said it was unacceptable not to condemn white supremacists and so I do so in the strongest possible way.”
Responding to the general criticism of his debate comments, Trump on Wednesday said the Proud Boys should “stand down” and claimed, “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are.”
It is the latest in a long line of controversies. Other recent Trump furors have centered on disparaging remarks he is alleged to have made about troops killed in battle and the extraordinarily small amounts he has paid in federal income tax in recent years.
The danger for Trump may be that his abrasive personality — seen, particularly by heartland conservative voters, as a bracing blast of anti-establishment air in 2016 — has worn thin.
His poll ratings have remained both unimpressive and steady, suggesting that the all-important sliver of persuadable voters who are likely to decide November’s election may have tuned him out.
Trump’s support against Biden has exceeded 45 percent in only one of the last 15 national polls collated by RealClearPolitics. The president trails in most of the battleground states as well, while parts of the electoral landscape that should be safe for him are instead competitive.
A Quinnipiac University poll of South Carolina released Wednesday put Trump and Biden in a de facto dead heat in the state, with Trump at 48 percent support among likely voters and Biden at 47 percent.
Four years ago, Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in South Carolina by 14 points. The Palmetto State has backed a Republican for the White House every four years subsequent to 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter won it.
Disaffected Republicans argue that no single storm has battered Trump. Instead, they say, the constant tensions and Twitter tirades in which he revels have had a cumulative and aggravating effect.
“I have said this since he was elected,” said one former GOP member of Congress. “This exhaustion, this never-ending drama and chaos … I think a lot of people are yearning for some kind of normalcy.”
Republican strategist Liz Mair agreed.
“Every day there is something that the president is going off about on Twitter or in a press conference or in a speech or what have you,” she said. “Nobody ever gets a break, and he never takes a break. It’s just constant information overload, and eventually people get sick of that.”
The question of whether the Trump Show is fading is made sharper by the fact that there are two more presidential debates to go.
In years past, presidential contenders have sought to shift their approach between debates. Then-President Obama was perceived to have been too passive in his first encounter with GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and was much more aggressive thereafter. Democratic nominee Al Gore was criticized in 2000 for changing his approach too much over the course of his three debates with then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
But with Trump, there will be none of that. He is who he is, and he believes that works — for obvious reasons, given how he defied the conventional wisdom to win in 2016.
However, there are significant doubts about whether the same strategy will work again.
Clinton was notably unpopular in 2016, and Trump may have also been helped by the presence of two other alternative choices in many states — Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.
Trump won a handy Electoral College victory while getting only 46 percent of the total votes cast.
This year, third-party candidates have struggled to gain traction, and Trump has a record upon which he can be judged — including on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
There are voters who “know who Donald Trump is and what he is all about, but they haven’t come on board with him,” said GOP strategist Dan Judy.
“He needs to do something to change their opinion about him. But what he does is, he plays the hits. And playing the hits is great for super-fans, but it doesn’t bring in someone who wasn’t a fan before.”
The president and his loyalists argue that none of that is true.
They contend the polls are wrong — perhaps under-sampling the president’s supporters, especially in rural America. They also argue that the enthusiasm for Trump is undiminished and can deliver him another upset victory this year.
In a tweet complaining about Fox News on Wednesday, Trump pledged, “We will win anyway!!!”
He could end up being proven right yet again.
But, as with reality TV, the public can also grow tired of the same old show eventually.
John “Mac” Stipanovich, a veteran Republican operative in Florida but a Trump critic, contended that too many people are “just sick and tired” of the president.
“You can see it on social media or in reputable publications,” Stipanovich said. “People saying, ‘I really want to just go for a week without thinking about the president of the United States.’”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.
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