After the Trump White House careened through another terrible week, Washington insiders wonder how long Trump can survive. The answer is: as long as he holds his base. Trump and his voters are locked in a deadly embrace: his base desperately wants to believe he will address their grievances and Trump is willing to lie to keep their support.
In her latest insightful Trump analysis, in the New York Review (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/06/22/trump-presidency-in-peril/), Elizabeth Drew observed, “Trump is, for all his deep flaws, in some ways a cannier politician than [former President] Nixon; he knows how to lie to his people to keep them behind him…People can have a hard time recognizing that they’ve been conned. And Trump is skilled at flimflam, creating illusions.”
Despite Trump’s “flimflam,” his approval ratings steadily decline. 538 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/) finds that 56 percent disapprove of the job trump is doing versus 38 percent that approve. Nonetheless, 82 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.
Elizabeth Drew asks the question that most Trump opponents have been pondering: “When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises, that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense, that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims?”
There are four factors that determine Trump’s base support: the first is his health. Donald is 71, overweight, with a poor attitude towards food, sleep, and exercise. During his recent overseas junket, his staff described him as “exhausted.” (Trump is limiting further trips because of the exhaustion.) During a sojourn in Italy, Trump wasn’t able to walk to a restaurant with other world leaders and travelled the short distance in a golf cart.
Some of Trump’s erratic behavior could be the result of poor physical health. If his health deteriorates further — for example, he is unable to travel overseas or to attend campaign rallies — then Trump will be labelled as “weak,” “frail, “incompetent,” and “pathetic.”
The second factor that could impact Trump’s support is media coverage. While the mainstream media (MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post…) has reported adversely on Trump’s behavior, the right-wing media (Fox, Breitbart…) has been supportive. (When Trump said he was “vindicated” by James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the mainstream media scoffed but the right-wing media echoed Trump’s sentiments.) What could cause the right-wing media to shift?
Elizabeth Drew noted that Trump is a “cannier” politician than Nixon. “He can… make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep [his base] loyal.” Trump has the ability to dominate the daily news by means of a tweet or a call to a conservative talk-show host. However, as the Trump-Russia investigation has accelerated he has lost some of this advantage. (For example, during the week of June 5th the news was dominated by James Comey not by Donald Trump.)
If Trump continues to fail to perform — if, for example, the Senate is unable to make progress on healthcare — or if evidence of his physical limitations becomes more obvious, then the right-wing media will turn on him.
The third factor that could determine Trump voters attitude is the stance of the Republican Party. At the moment, the only political entity more unpopular than Trump is the GOP. Therefore, Party leaders such as Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, and Paul Ryan continue to back Trump. Their attitude seems to be: “Trump may be crazy but he’s the only chance we have of accomplishing our agenda.”
So far, the Republican Congress has been remarkably disciplined supporting Trump. Nonetheless, the more dire Republican prospects in 2018, the more likely we are to see Republican congresspeople abandon Trump. For example, a few days ago Arizona Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally told constituents: “They (Democrats) only need 23 seats. The path to that gavel being handed over is through my seat, and right now it doesn’t matter that it’s me. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done. It doesn’t matter. It’s just that I have an ‘R’ next to my name, and right now this environment would have me not prevail.” (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/06/12/secretly-taped-remarks-arizona-congresswoman-forecasts-trouble-gop/102776408/)
The Republican problem is that they have not advanced any meaningful legislation. Trump’s agenda is supposed to be Obamacare repeal, massive tax cuts, and a trillion dollar infrastructure package. So far, none of this has happened.
The Trump Administration is running out of runway. If there are no meaningful GOP legislative accomplishments by Labor Day, then Republican congress people will begin distancing themselves from Trump.
Finally, the fourth factor that could influence Trump voters is the economy. So far Trump has been blessed by a positive, if tepid economy. (The 2017 first quarter GDP increased by only .7 percent.) The US economy is at full employment and wage growth has barely exceeded inflation.
Trump promised to push economic growth by means of a massive infrastructure investment. So far this program has languished.
Trump’s position is deteriorating. He’s beginning to lose his domination of the news. His legislative agenda appears to be dead in the water. All it will take is one major setback and the Trump facade will crumble; his voters will massively unfriend him.
The question is what will this setback be? Will it be developments in the Russia investigation or the economy or something unpredictable?