This past weekend, President Donald Trump tweeted a confession to the world that his top campaign operatives, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, had knowingly met with emissaries of the Russian government to receive information on his opponent, which he characterized as perfectly legal and routine, while also insisting that he knew nothing about it. In a previous era, this would have been a shocking development that would likely lead to impeachment. Regardless of the legality (and plenty of experts say it was indeed illegal) it was certainly unethical and unpatriotic.
There have been other cases in which campaigns were given stolen information. They went to the authorities with the information. They didn’t respond “I love it,” and then gather the campaign’s top guns to hear the pitch. (The one exception that we know of is that paragon of virtue Richard Nixon, of course, and the “Chenault Affair.”)
Trump is obviously very agitated. That tweet and dozens more, along with his increasingly erratic rally appearances over the past few weeks, show a man under pressure who is not handling it well. That chaos is starting to catch up with him in a way he doesn’t seem to expect or understand.
Annie Karni of Politico reported this week that the president and his advisers now believe that his famous campaign statement that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue is pretty much true:
[T]he experience of Charlottesville, as well as his ability to recover from any short-term crisis, has been empowering for Trump and his allies. Three former aides said the takeaway from Charlottesville is the nihilistic notion that nothing matters except for how things play.“The lesson of the Trump presidency is that no short-term crisis matters long term,” said one former White House official who worked in the administration last year during the racial crisis. …
Even Trump’s critics admit that it had little effect in the short term. At this point, it is conventional wisdom among them that no single event will ever seal his fate — and that the only impact they might have on him, politically, is in the aggregate.
There is evidence that his numerous crises are finally starting to take that toll. According to a new poll by Priorities USA, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group and Global Strategy Group, three recent “crises” have stuck, sharply driving down voters’ opinions of his temperament and truthfulness to their lowest ratings in the 11 tracking polls they’ve done of the Trump presidency:
Donald Trump’s dealings with Vladimir Putin, his handling of immigration and the separation of children from their families, and the impact of his trade war have stuck with voters in a way nothing else has since the beginning of his presidency.
It would seem that the Trump team’s “nothing matters” rationale may not be playing as well as they thought. After 18 months of Trump’s antics it’s become obvious that in every area Trump’s character flaws are producing crises. Even some of his own supporters have begun to balk:
Among the 37% of Trump voters who do not strongly approve of him, just 52% want to elect Republicans to help him pass his policies. Large shares of these weak Trump voters express an unfavorable reaction to Trump’s temperament and leadership style (53%), his dealings with Russia and Vladimir Putin (48%), and his truthfulness in the things that he says (47%). By 35% to 27% they express more doubts than confidence about whether Trump has the integrity and honesty a president should have (34% say they feel somewhere in between).
These impressions of Trump’s competence, integrity and truthfulness seem to be directly related to these three recent crises and they are affecting people’s attitudes about other issues. By a 56 percent to 31 percent margin, voters don’t like what they’ve heard about the trade war. That is spilling over into impressions of Trump’s allegedly brilliant economic stewardship. Only 35 percent said Trump’s economic policies are good for them, with the same number approving of the tax bill. Only 22 percent say that things are changing for the better economically.
An astonishing 64 percent say the cost of health care is getting worse. They know who to thank.
More and more are saying they want the congress to check his power:
By 51% to 37%, voters say they would rather see more Democrats elected to Congress to be a check and balance on Trump than more Republicans elected to Congress to help Trump pass his policies and programs. Notably, voters who backed Trump in 2016 are far less eager to elect Republicans to help Trump (75%) than Clinton voters are to elect Democrats to be a check on Trump (94%). This reflects the fact that Clinton voters are far more likely to strongly disapprove of Trump’s performance (83%) than Trump voters are to voice strong approval (63%).
This leads to an interesting strategic insight. Democrats running for office in the upcoming midterms don’t have to emphasize the Russia investigation or even immigration and trade if they are in red or swing districts. Trump’s incompetence and cruelty are already being taken into account, leaving the field open for candidates to focus on the bread and butter issues. Noxious Trumpism is baked in to people’s impressions of his policies now and Republicans who are associated with him (pretty much all of them) are tainted as well.
On Tuesday we have one of those bellwether special elections for the fall in an Ohio district that Trump won by double digits in 2016 and which has voted Republican for 30 years. The GOP has had all hands on deck for the past couple of weeks, but the last thing they needed was the president coming to town and holding one of his obnoxious rallies. A big part of this district is composed of those suburban white women who really loathe him. He insisted on showing up anyway, assured that his magic touch would bring legions of followers to the polls. Naturally, it’s almost the anniversary of the atrocity in Charlottesville so he had to tweet a racist rant about Ohio basketball hero LeBron James, just to ensure that his appearance was as pernicious as possible.
As of Election Day, Democrat Danny O’Connor and Republican Troy Balderson are tied, and reporting this week says the Democrats are surging. If O’Connor pulls it off, it’s going to be hard to say that Trump’s disruptive behavior “played well.” In fact the signs are that people are now paying close attention and don’t like what they see one little bit.