Trump Achieves Another Historical First: Approval Stability

It’s no secret that Donald Trump likes to brag (and brag often) about the historical significance of his presidency. Sometimes it’s in regard to new highs in the stock market or other economic figures — things he should certainly be proud of. Other times, the “records” he touts, when held up to the facts, aren’t really records at all, but rather gratuitous opportunities to congratulate himself.

But as Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner wrote in an interesting piece the other day, one historical record that Trump has unquestionably achieved is that of approval stability.

“What’s that?” you might be asking.

Simply put, President Trump’s approval rating has fluctuated less than any other president’s in American history (at least since pollsters began measuring presidential approval back during the Truman administration). As Klein points out (citing historical Gallup data), Trump has never polled higher than 46% or lower than 35%.

“That’s a stark contrast to prior presidents, who have typically seen wide swings in approval over the course of their presidencies,” writes Klein.

Prior to Trump, John F. Kennedy held the narrowest approval range, peaking at 83% and bottoming at 56%. That’s a fluctuation of 27 points. Trump’s range has been much tighter: a mere 11 points.

Why does this matter? In the scheme of everyday life in America, it really doesn’t. But in political terms, it’s rather telling.

The stability suggests that people’s sentiments toward Trump aren’t reliant on the state of the union. Regardless of his decisions and policies, what’s going on in America at any given time, and what the outlook is for our nation’s future, people’s views of Trump don’t really change.

For example, the economy has been very strong under Trump (better than when he took office), and Americans are aware of that. The polls suggest that most people approve of the president’s handling of the economy, but their opinions of him and his overall performance are roughly where they’ve always been.

Another example: People in the mainstream media hammer Trump on a daily basis. Some of it is fair, and a lot of it is unfair. Regardless, the public’s perception of Trump doesn’t appear to be phased by what they’re doing. In fact, according to the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Trump’s approval stands today where it stood the day he was sworn into office.

The Russia investigation, the trade war, the sky-high stock market, our soaring national debt, full employment, compulsory and consequential foreign policy decisions, and now impeachment… Under other presidencies, these conditions would be good for peaks and canyons in approval. But not under Trump’s. None of it seems to have more than a negligible effect either way.

Can this all be attributed to political tribalism — the notion that we the people are now so committed to our political teams that our support for our side, and our opposition to the other, is unconditional?

I think that’s certainly a big part of it. There are a lot of people in this country who support and defend literally anything with Donald Trump’s fingerprints on it (even when it means surrendering their longtime personal beliefs). The inverse is true of many of Trump’s opponents, who would oppose this president even if he handed them every political victory they’d ever asked for, on a silver platter.

But the breakdown of hyper-partisans in this county isn’t a 50/50 split among the American electorate. A lot of voters aren’t partisans and aren’t committed to either team. Yet, their overall views of Trump also seem pretty much set in stone.

Why is that? I think the answer is twofold.

First of all, people will never forget the 2016 election-cycle. That’s when Trump worked tirelessly to establish himself as one of the most polarizing political figures in American history.

This didn’t happen due to some unfair media representation of Trump. In fact, the media largely loved his bizarre and vitriolic campaign, because it was great for ratings and journalists didn’t think the man stood a chance of beating Hillary Clinton. No, the polarization came from Trump and Trump alone as he showed voters exactly who he was.

After all, you can’t do things like mock American POWs for their capture, lampoon a reporter’s birth-defect disability, publicly muse about a journalist’s menstrual cycle, and say a trial judge can’t perform his job because “he’s a Mexican,” and then insist it’s the media that made those incidents (and you) look bad.

Secondly, Trump has never made an attempt, since the election, to win over the hearts and minds of those he chased off back then. In fact, he’s only confirmed to those people that they had him pegged correctly as a needlessly vindictive, emotionally and intellectually unfit individual. He offered another reminder of that just the other day when he suggested that the late husband of Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell was “looking up” from hell. (Trump said this because Dingell voted to impeach him.)

Again, you can’t imply that a grieving widow’s husband is burning in hell, and then blame the media for making people angry about it. So even if Americans who aren’t fans of Trump like some of the things that have come from his presidency, Trump has made certain that their view of him will never be a positive one, even if they don’t particularly care for his Democratic opponents either. When you add that element to the tribalism component, you get a historically stable (and historically low) approval rating.

Could Trump have changed the public’s perception of him? Can he still do it?

I think it’s possible, but we’ll never know for sure because the portion of the electorate that makes up his loyal base continues to support, defend, and cheer just about everything he does — including the very ugly stuff. And to a guy like Trump, who always responds to flattery over doing what’s morally right, such obedience is validation that his worst instincts are the correct ones.

For those reasons, it’s very likely that Trump’s stable (and underwater) approval pattern will continue through next year. If that’s the case, will he lose the election? Maybe, but you’d be foolish to count him out. Keep in mind that he wasn’t liked by most voters when he won three years ago, and the latest polls show that Americans aren’t exactly excited about his potential 2020 opponents.

Still, even a modest rise in approval would make the task much easier for Trump.

Because our president himself is the prevailing factor in how nearly everyone views his overall presidency, it sure would be interesting to see what would happen if Trump did the unthinkable and at least tried to be a decent guy. I’m talking about being the kind of person who doesn’t, as Mark Galli of Christianity Today put it yesterday, “dumb down the idea of morality” and use his Twitter account to spread a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders.”

Even in a disingenuous effort, what would be the downside of such a venture?

Would Trump’s loyalists abandon him? Of course not. Would the media and Democrats come after him harder than they do now? With less ammunition, it’s tough to see how.

Maybe…just maybe, behaving like a respectable grown-up for a while would actually lift Trump’s approval ceiling. And if that were to happen, maybe…just maybe, disaffected but persuadable voters would finally consider Trump an acceptable recipient of their vote.

It sure seems like an easy enough experiment to conduct. Yet, we all know that it will never happen…and that’s because — as reflected in his approval ratings — we understand exactly who Trump is, and what his narcissism won’t allow him to do.

Looking for a unique Christmas gift for friends and family? Signed, personalized copies of the Sean Coleman Thrillers, by John A. Daly, make great stocking stuffers!

Trump’s Self-Sabotaging Twitter Habit

“Judge him by his actions, not his words.”

That’s the message regularly put forth by Trump supporters, and not just those devout believers on the Trump Train, who would contentedly use their last dying breath to defend the president on any given issue. The sentiment also comes from right-leaning folks who have a more nuanced take on Trump, seeing him as a perpetually misfiring vehicle, but a vehicle nonetheless — one that can take them to some of the places they want to go, politically.

Often used to dismiss the president’s ill-advised Twitter rants, the “actions speak louder than words” philosophy does have some merit. Ultimately, the success or failure of a presidency is indeed linked to consequential decisions, and not off-the-cuff remarks. The problem, however, is that Trump’s social-media impulsiveness is sabotaging his own agenda, and preventing him from moving forward with action on a number of fronts.

Executive privilege only allows for so much to be accomplished, under our constitution. Without political capital, big things are harder to achieve. Trump’s lack of rhetorical discipline provides his opposition (including many in the media) with a steady flow of ammunition to bludgeon him with. Whether it’s needless rancor, mixed messaging, or misleading information, Trump’s open gateway to the public continually puts forth the image of a reckless and petty president — one unworthy of the public confidence required to lift his approval ratings above water.

And when the electorate is largely against a president, political opponents feel justified and emboldened in working to make sure his agenda goes down in flames.

This all begs the question: What benefit does Trump get from blurting out to the world whatever is on his mind, at any given moment? Has it helped him earn political support that he didn’t already have? His lack of legislative achievements and his consistently low job-approval would suggest no.

The default explanation from members of the Trump administration is that Twitter helps the president get around the mainstream (aka “fake-news”) media to talk directly to the American people. Fair enough. But whenever the media jumps on one of our president’s provocative tweets, and asks for clarification, the same administration spokespeople quickly dismiss the tweets by saying that they shouldn’t be taken literally or particularly seriously, and that — again — we should judge Trump by his actions and not his words.

So…we end up right back where we started, asking the question of why Trump is tweeting in the first place.

This routine is actually quite similar to one that Jon Stewart used to employ, back when the comedian was a liberal darling on The Daily Show. Stewart, who earned his runaway success largely off of mocking Republicans, used to wear two hats when in the public eye (and it drove conservatives nuts). There was Jon Stewart the political pundit, and Jon Stewart the comedian.

Jon Stewart the political pundit was passionately praised by the Left for his sanctimonious Daily Show rants that “destroyed” conservatives. The televised sermons would routinely go viral on social media, and stream their way into American culture, establishing Stewart as a true political force to be reckoned with. But the moment Stewart would be called out by conservative pundits to answer for his partisan double-standards and blatant hypocrisy, he would immediately fall back on Jon Stewart the comedian, whose material was meant “only for laughs” and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

This is the same drill we’re now seeing with Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Only, it’s coming from the White House, which makes the suggestion to discount the rhetoric a much harder sell. Whether or not Jon Stewart should have been held to the standard of a news-media pundit was a legitimate debate. Whether or not Donald Trump should be held to the standard of a United States president isn’t.

Trump is the leader of the free world. His words matter. And his lack of discipline on Twitter is doing him absolutely no favors.

The president might believe, as he often says, that it’s his opponents in the mainstream media that want him to abandon Twitter. He couldn’t be more wrong. They’re the ones who want him to continue tweeting his unfiltered thoughts, which provide them with negative stories that they wouldn’t otherwise have, and be able to report.

The people who want Trump to retire from social-media are those who would rather see him pull off a successful presidency for the American people than crash and burn at the expense of our nation.

Until Trump figures that out, expect the self-sabotage and ridiculous rationalizing to continue. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still a law, tax reform is stalled, and nothing of any significance is happening on the endlessly-promoted border wall.

But hey, at least we know what the president thinks about London’s mayor, right?

And now, a special message from the President of the United States, concerning the release of John A. Daly’s upcoming novel, Broken Slate.

The Perpetuated Myth That the Polls Are Wrong

Trump pollsDonald Trump is not a popular president. To some people that matters. To some people it doesn’t. Either way, it’s the reality of the situation. As of today, the president’s approval rating, according to the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, is at only 42%.

If you’re a fervent Trump supporter, it’s a safe bet that your reflexive response to that last sentence will be something like: Are those the same polls that showed that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election?

After all, just about every time a commentator references President Trump’s approval ratings, that’s the kind of snarky retort they’re typically greeted with by the Trump faithful, whether it be through social media, website comment-sections, or in person (I’m speaking from personal experience on that last one).

I understood such a visceral response back in November, right after Trump won the presidency. Swing-states that were supposed to go to Clinton went to Trump, and many analysts (sometimes dubbed “the elites”) were left dumbfounded over what happened. The default sentiment was that the much-cited poll numbers (nearly all of which suggested a Clinton victory) had been dead wrong.

Only, as it turned out, they weren’t wrong. They actually ended up being pretty accurate.

Back in January, when the final vote tallies were released, we learned that Clinton had won the popular vote by about three million votes, which equates to 2.1 points. The average of national polls (which measure the popular vote), taken just prior to the election, showed Clinton with a 3.1 point lead. That’s only a one-point difference between the polling estimate and the actual numbers, making the national polling results from 2016 even more accurate than in the 2012 election.

The problem was with a handful of state polls (which are notoriously less reliable). Local polling in Wisconsin (which none of the national pollsters participated in), for example, had Clinton with a 6.5 lead right before the election. As we all know, Trump ended up winning the state.

The national polls reflect general public sentiment in this country. They don’t necessarily reflect the nuances of the electoral college. And though the national popular-vote isn’t how the presidency is ultimately decided, it has historically been a good indicator of the electorate’s attitude.

Of course, I’m not the first person to point out this distinction (not by a long shot). But being that it’s been nearly five months since the election, and a large number of people are still denying the validity of national polling based on the election results (including President Trump at times), I think it’s worth repeating.

After all, accurate data is a good thing. Is it not?

As Americans, we’ve understandably lost faith in many of our country’s institutions, but national polling firms shouldn’t be among them. They’ve turned out (for the most part) to be pretty darned good at what they do. They’re not “out of touch” with people’s sentiments, as is often suggested. They’re actually very much reflective of the sentiments of Americans, as they proved in November of 2016.

So, when people thumb their noses at the notion that our president’s job-performance ratings are legitimate, it’s safe to say that those people are either in denial or blissfully ignorant on the matter.

And when they respond to those unflattering ratings by asking, “Are those the same polls that showed that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election?” the correct answer to that question is: “No. They are the same polls that accurately predicted the election results.”

It’s perfectly valid to argue that Trump isn’t getting a fair shake, and that the mainstream media’s overwhelming negative coverage of his presidency is contributing to his poor approval rating. But denying the premise that our president is viewed unfavorably by most of the country is both unfounded and foolish.

Broken Slate