Call it the Trump paradox.
So many Democrats, liberals and all-around detractors look at the last 2-1/2 years, and are convinced that he’ll never win reelection. They see chaos and confusion, they see endless Twitter rants, and they see a president who hasn’t cracked 50 percent in the major polls.
But here’s what they’re missing: There’s a significant chunk of the country that doesn’t like Trump’s behavior, but very much likes how things are going.
They particularly like the booming economy, which remains the greatest single indicator of whether an incumbent president will get a second term. If America isn’t mired in a major war — remember that Trump called off the airstrikes against Iran with 10 minutes to spare — then it’s the economy, stupid.
I get that the rising tide isn’t lifting all boats, that everyone doesn’t have a 401(k) plan. But with the lowest jobless rate in half a century, things certainly don’t look as dire as the Democratic candidates are painting them.
All of which leads me to an invaluable nugget in the new Washington Post/ABC poll.
What made headlines is that Trump has risen to his highest approval level in that survey, 47 percent — up from 42 percent in April. And that’s while he’s been dealing with the border crisis, the Kim Jong-un meeting, the trade war and other controversies.
At the same time, more than six in 10 of those surveyed say Trump has acted in ways that are unpresidential since taking office.
And here’s the zinger: “Roughly one-fifth of those who say he is not presidential say they approve of the job he is doing.”
That’s the key to his presidency, and one that many pundits fail to understand. Sure, lots of Americans think Trump at times goes too far, crosses the line, shatters the norms, and they’re uncomfortable with that. But they’re still satisfied with his performance — especially, I’m sure, conservatives who see him delivering on judges, social issues and deregulation.
Trump is underwater on numerous issues in the Post/ABC poll, but gets positive marks from 51 percent when it comes to the economy.
And while the survey shows Joe Biden beating Trump by 10 points, the president is 1 to 2 points behind Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris — a statistical tie — and actually tied with Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.
There’s a reason that Biden is still leading the Democratic field; many of the party’s voters have reason to believe he’d run strongest against Trump.
Part of Trump’s appeal to his supporters — which drives his critics crazy — is that he’s always on offense. And that’s especially true against the press.
In a tweetstorm over the weekend, the president strafed some of his favorite targets, including the “failing” New York Times, for “writing phony and exaggerated stories about the Border Detention Centers.” (The Times and El Paso Times jointly published a lengthy investigation, based on dozens of interviews, which said some customs agents had gone to their bosses about the horrendous conditions at the Clint, Texas Facility.)
He also went after “Comcast Trump haters” at NBC and MSNBC, who do what they’re told by “Brian & Steve.” (Brian Roberts is chairman of the networks’ parent company and Steve Burke is NBC’s chief executive officer.) And he singled out “Lyin’ Brian Williams,” who “totally fabricated a war story.” (Williams, an MSNBC late-night host, lost his job as NBC anchor after telling a false story about his helicopter coming under fire in Iraq.)
The president also went after the weekend anchors at Fox News, declaring them worse than “Fake News” CNN. He tweeted that Fox, which failed to get the “very BORING Dem debates, is now loading up with Democrats and even using Fake unsources @nytimes as a ‘source’ of information.” That was most likely a reference to the Times’ Sunday story on conditions at the border.
Trump has tweeted critically before about Fox’s town halls with Democratic candidates, and seems annoyed that the race, which is now heating up, is getting significant airtime.
These are just the sort of attacks that rile up his base, which detests the media, and Fox’s news division is not exempt.
Perhaps the conflicted view of Trump is best captured by leaked cables from Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch. (Trump tweeted that the administration will no longer deal with him, but of course he’ll be replaced when Boris Johnson takes over as prime minister.)
Darroch cabled London that Trump is “inept,” “insecure” and “incompetent,” and the White House “uniquely dysfunctional,” according to the Daily Mail.
And yet the tart-tongued diplomat also wrote that Trump may nonetheless “emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of ‘The Terminator.’”
And that’s why, as the Post poll suggests, Donald Trump after the next election may still be back.