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 John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida 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 GinsburgDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett 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 CollinsDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave 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 TillisGOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave Cunningham, Tillis locked in tight race in North Carolina: poll 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 McConnellOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid 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 to campaign for Biden in Florida Jaime Harrison on Lindsey Graham postponing debate: 'He's on the verge of getting that one-way ticket back home' Quinnipiac poll reports Biden leading Trump by 8 points in Pennsylvania 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 BarrassoHillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference GOP senators call on Trump to oppose nationalizing 5G Energy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress 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.