Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins'

Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins'
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Two and a half weeks ago, President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE was revealed — on tape by America's most renowned investigative reporter — to have lied to the public about COVID-19, which may have cost thousands of American lives.

A week before, it was reported — and subsequently confirmed by multiple other outlets — that the president called Americans who died in war “losers.”

These revelations would be disqualifying for most any other political candidate, presidential or other.


Trump's numbers have barely budged.

On the flip side, Trump orchestrated a heavily hyped Israeli-Arab lovefest at the White House. This past week, he seized on the Supreme Court vacancy occasioned by Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgOcasio-Cortez says Breyer should retire from Supreme Court Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Juan Williams: Time for Justice Breyer to go MORE's death to demand confirmation of a conservative replacement before the election, culminating in his selection of Amy Coney Barrett.

It hasn’t affected his ratings.

Trump is a Teflon president in both directions. His deadly duplicity, illicit acts, and boorish bullying doesn't faze his supporters; likewise, any achievements fail to soften the opposition or impress many independents.

The Gallup polls measure presidential approval every week or so throughout a presidential term. There's much less variance with Trump over 44 months. On a few occasions, his approval would jump into the high 40s and other times sink to the mid 30s, but mainly — through bad and good news — it settles in the low 40s with a disapproval in the low to mid-50s. Both his support and opposition are more intense than usual.

This pattern defies events and causes flawed conclusions. After Trump's first State of the Union, liberal cable news commentator Van Jones gushed that he “became President of the United States in that moment” when he introduced from the galleries the widow of a recently slain Navy Seal — “one of the most extraordinary moments in American politics.”


The public didn't share the euphoria.

The president's approval ratings actually slid a little over the following four weeks. Introducing heroes has become standard in State of the Union speeches; the circumstances surrounding the death of the Navy Seal, Ryan Owens, remain controversial.

Five weeks later, when Trump launched a missile strike against Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack, the usually sensible journalist Fareed Zakaria hailed a new day, a defining “big moment” for Trump and his championing of “international norms, international rules.”

Again, his approval ratings were unchanged.

It was the same after Congress passed the big tax cut.

Trump got a positive bounce after the Senate impeachment acquittal and again in the early stages of the pandemic — before his failings became evident. In each instance, those gains were short-lived.

Through ups and downs, most Republican senators remain all-in for Trump.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) charged Woodward with writing “a gotcha book.” Yet most of the book centered around multiple taped interviews with the president.

Justifying an impeachment acquittal vote, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE (R-Maine) said the president had learned “a pretty big lesson.” Almost immediately Trump sought revenge against those who had told the truth during the impeachment, and now, we've learned, started lying about the lethal virus.

The senators are afraid of him.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (R-N.C.) wrote a column opposing Trump's power grab declaring a national emergency to free up funds to build his border war. Tillis said he was “standing on principle.” It didn't take the White House long to knee-cap him — Tillis voted against his “principles” to approve those emergency powers Trump was claiming.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the Supreme Court battle.

Four years ago, as a matter of “principle,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip MORE (R-Ky.) and fellow Republicans embraced an eight-member Supreme Court for nearly a year while they refused to give Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Fox News viewers 'perceive a different reality' than other Americans Police investigating death of TV anchor who uncovered Clinton tarmac meeting as suicide Ending the same-sex marriage wars MORE's nominee so much as a hearing, contending that it would be inappropriate in a presidential election year.

Now, with Ginsburg's death, the hypocrisy of McConnell & Co. is stunning even by Senate standards. They plan to confirm Trump's nominee days before the Nov. 3 election. They say this isn't unusual. No, not at all. Yet, over the 20th and 21st century the shortest period between a Supreme Court confirmation and presidential election was 106 days.

Defending the hypocrisy, Senate Republican conference chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoBiden land management pick faces GOP scrutiny over decades-old tree spiking case Senate passes long-delayed China bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE of Wyoming said nominees in a presidential year only are approved when the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party. A little history lesson for the senator: The last justice who fits this bill was Anthony Kennedy, nominated by a Republican president and confirmed — unanimously — in 1988 by a Democratic Senate.

It is the nature of this president that there will be political turbulence over the next six weeks, maybe involving national security, certainly involving election security — but he isn't going to change minds. His popularity record suggests he’d have to manufacture a real crisis (and handle it with uncharacteristic competence and aplomb) or manipulate votes.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.