Analysts are sifting through a mountain of just-released national polling from ABC News/Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, along with the continuous flow from the Gallup Organization, but a couple of snap impressions are already in order.
First, President Trump’s overall job-approval ratings have ticked up a few points from their low ebb over the summer. Some of the gain is attributable to him finally scoring a major legislative victory, albeit in an unexpected way—a deal with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that both surprised and appalled their Republican counterparts, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Reaching across the partisan divide to get something done no doubt caused the uptick of 3 or 4 points.
Second, contrary to much speculation, Trump’s numbers among Republicans did not plunge as a result of the cross-partisan deal. In Gallup’s continuous tracking, his approval ratings among his fellow party members rose a couple of points as well. It was a reminder that when activists and ideologues rant on cable television and talk radio, they’re expressing their own views, not those of the of the rank and file or political leaders.
Party bases, Republican or Democratic, and ideological bases, liberal or conservative, reflect only a quarter or a third of the country, give or take a few points. Ideologically, the country is shaped more like a bell curve, with most people clustered in the middle. For that matter, few congressional districts or even states truly mirror the nation as a whole. The Republican obsession with repealing and replacing Obamacare and the Democratic infatuation with a single-payer system are examples of people on each side assuming that everyone else sees things as they do.
As much as I personally like the idea of going across the aisle to reach agreements, a throwback to the days when Congress got things done even if somewhat inefficiently, I can’t help but wonder about Trump’s motives in reaching out to Schumer and Pelosi without even giving a heads-up to McConnell and Ryan. The thought occurs that he might have enjoyed sticking a thumb in the eyes of the Republican leaders, whom he doesn’t respect and seems to dislike personally.
I am still convinced that Trump will rue the day months ago when he began disparaging GOP leaders and congressional Republicans. The wedge that he has driven between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill will cause him no end of grief in next year’s midterm elections. Imagine going to voters with this message: “It’s important for you to vote and support the people that I spent most of last year trashing.”
Another factor in Trump’s improved job-approval rating may well be the impact of Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has imposed a degree of order and discipline on a White House that previously had little of either. Before Kelly, the West Wing was an unfortunate combination of the Keystone Kops and a circular firing squad, a source of consternation not only to Trump supporters but also to Americans who simply wanted the country to do well.
While Kelly can limit White House infighting, he can’t prevent the president from slipping his leash. Donald Trump will still be Donald Trump. Whether making a strident speech at the United Nations or baiting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un or picking a fight with the NFL and NBA, Trump enjoys overturning the political apple cart—and throwing a few apples for good measure.
His supporters thrill to his jibes and politically incorrect pronouncements. It reassures them that he is not just another professional politician and that he understands the frustrations that have been building over the years. At the same time, when Trump hurls a rotten apple, it reminds his critics of the imprudent and unpresidential behavior that drives them crazy. As some detractors described his United Nations address, it was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, in the wrong place.
Trump’s behavior simultaneously intensifies both his support and opposition, leaving few in the middle. This should come as no surprise. After all, this is the way candidate Trump conducted himself during the campaign. He didn’t capture a majority or even a plurality of the national popular vote, but he still won—and he clearly believes that his victory in the Electoral College reflects the will of the American people.
His unusual and improbable victory reinforced a political style that may not be as successful for his party in next year’s midterm elections or even in 2020, should he stand for reelection. Politics has usually been about addition, not subtraction, and the fact that his job-approval rating has been below even his percentage of the national popular vote suggests that he has been subtracting, not adding. This is not the math of a successful presidency.
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"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."
"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."
"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."
"Rev. Jamie Johnson resigned Thursday as the head of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security," following a CNN report on "inflammatory past comments he made about the black community and Islam. In past radio appearances, Johnson had said the black community was responsible for turning major U.S. cities into 'slums' and argued that Islam's only contribution to society was 'oil and dead bodies.'"
"An NBC News investigation into the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with Reuters, shows that" a high-end condo project in Panama, to which Donald Trump licensed his name, "was riddled with brokers, customers and investors who have been linked to drug trafficking and international crime. Ceballos, who investigated the project, went as far as to call the skyscraper 'a vehicle for money laundering.' The investigation revealed no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family engaged in any illegal activity, or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the project’s associates. But [they] never asked any questions about the buyers or where the money was coming from."