From the moment Donald J. Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower in June 2015, to his stunning defeat of Hillary Clinton in November 2016, to today, he's enjoyed a core group of supporters who trust him to do the right thing for America.
In fact, since he took office, his approval rating, aggregated among all professional polls, as presented by FiveThirtyEight, is remarkably consistent. Since mid-2017 he hasn't fallen below 36.5% and hasn't risen above 44.7%. Right now, it's hovering just below 42%.
Contrast that with Barack Obama (courtesy of Gallup), who swung more wildly from the mid 60% level (his honeymoon as the first black president was well deserved) to right around 40% at the same point in his presidency. At the start of 2012, his re-election year, Obama swung back up to the high 50's, only to sink back to around 40%, only rising above 50% in his lame-duck year.
With the exception of the post-9/11 surge, George W. Bush's approval rating hovered in the high 50's for his "honeymoon" and then as the war pressed on, settled into the low 40's, and kept declining through his second term.
By these measures, Trump is more popular than his predecessor, and overall, more popular than the last Republican president to inhabit the White House. Yet so many people hate him so vigorously, because Trump is a master disruptor.
I'm still processing two books that I think should be on every political science curriculum reading list, not to mention journalism and history. The first is J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy." It's an intensely personal and social dagger into the heart of elitism and a foundation of many of the reasons people in the heartland (and elsewhere) put their trust in a man so socially unacceptable and completely allergic to telling the truth.
The second is "The Great Revolt" by Salena Zito, who travelled the counties that ultimately gave Trump his electoral victory and identified seven "archetypes" of Trump voters. She supported her observations and deep connections with personalities she met with scientific and targeted polling.
Vance and his family may well have been one of the examples Zito cited in her book (they're not profiled), although there are plenty of others who fit the archetypes. The question we must all ask ourselves is not whether 2016 was "the Flight 93 election" or whether the GOP will survive, or whether the "Deep State" actively tried to prevent Trump from winning.
The question is ultimately, whether right or wrong in our own mind, is President Trump representing the interests of the United States, as expressed by its polity? Does this president love the country, and is his expression of that love reflective of the goals, dreams, aspirations, and best qualities of our citizens?
As much as I've railed against Trump as a person--his ego, his lying, his lasciviousness, his lack of spiritual and personal moral code--I have begun to see why many Americans would answer "yes," President Trump is what America needs.
They perceive him as unafraid, untethered, and unapologetic to anyone on planet Earth. Largely, this is true. I cannot see a scenario where Trump would cave to Vladimir Putin, even if Putin had something "on" him. Trump would take Russian money, accept their influence to help his campaign or his business interests, and then continue to apply sanctions to hurt the very Russians he gladly praised to get their help.
Trump has done this over and over in the business world. He sees politicians as useful instruments in gaining his will, but not specifically dogmatic in their actions. The ones who don't bend, he rolls over. Most of Trump's supporters simply don't care about his lies, about his business practices (which frequently stuck it to small contractors who didn't get paid full value, or at times, paid at all), about his marriages. They don't care because they didn't elect him to be true to those things.
These supporters trust Trump to represent the United States as it if were one of his businesses, and in fact his own family. What would you do, they may think, to defend your own family from determined detractors and thieves? Trump has shown exactly what he'd do, and that's enough for enough voters to elect him.
Given that Trump's enemies, the press and the political left, have gone far beyond criticism in their effort to take down Trump, this defense posture only makes Trump's core supporters more ardent in their belief. Like a lump of coal compressed into a diamond, their trust in Trump just gets harder.
This isn't a recent phenomenon either. The media benefits from Trump and his supporters are enraged and therefore more driven to him. Back in June, the "no nations, no borders" marchers were enough of a thing on CNN to draw some notice.
Not so much in 2014, when Obama ruled the roost, though Obama was also deporting illegals.
Meanwhile, CNN went from 433,000 total day viewers in 2015, to 995,000 in November 2016, the most-watched month they had in 8 years (all of Obama's presidency). They sunk back to 663,000 in Q2 2018, it's "third-highest daytime performance in 23 years (since 1996)" according to their press release. (Source: Newser.)
Donald J. Trump has been very good for the main stream media that hates him so much. For being "the enemy of the people," many of these organizations have been richly rewarded.
I'd say the media is unwittingly helping Trump, but I can't use that word. They know they're helping him, and they know they do it despite the fact they hate what he's doing. As Leslie Moonves at CBS famously said, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." If journalists like Jim Acosta would stand by the morals and self-righteousness they express as they make the green room rounds at late night and morning talk shows, they'd quit working for companies that gave Trump $2 billion in unearned media, and continue to coalesce around Trump's Twitter feed like teen school girls meeting Taylor Swift.
I still don't like the negative personal attributes of Donald J. Trump. I don't regret the fact that I didn't vote for him--I threw my vote into the wind with a terrible Evan McMullin protest. I regret ever having given support to McMullin.
Come 2020, and even in the midterm elections of 2018, the question that will continue to press voters is the same as I wrote above. Is Trump truly doing well for America? Those emotionally invested in "everything Trump does is awful" and "Trump = Nazi" will continue to oppose him. Fine. Cindy Sheehan protested George W. Bush for years, and she got way more press attention than she deserved. Democrats will always paint Republicans as the devil.
But reasonable voters without the emotional investment will see where the left wants America to go, and then where Trump is taking our government, our policy, our courts, and the nation in the eyes of the world. They will ask the question and many will conclude he is worth their support--and candidates for Congress where he shows up to campaign will ride his coattails.
I think they'll conclude that Trump does indeed love America, and treats it as his family. Not to apologize for, as Obama did, and not to make into the wisest at the table, as Bush did. But--I can't help now seeing it--Trump fights for it. There, I said it.
As bad as he is for every institution and person that attacks him, as awful of a boss he is to his own cabinet, as much of a liar as he is, and with every terrible intuition that he's leading the GOP to its permanent death, along with every conservative principle we've ever held, I think Trump will remain fairly popular. I think he'll continue to produce enough winners for us to praise him. I think he'll lead us somewhere we ultimately want to go.
We will get there at the cost of having to intellectually put together a shattered puzzle, and rebuild the conservative battlements that once stood mighty in the GOP. But we will get to a place where work is valued, law is treated textually, morality is left to individual liberty, and society is sick of those who would tear down our values and institutions in the name of "progress."
I see it now. It's going to take some time before I can believe it.