Trump Actually Has Built a Wall… Around His Approval Ratings. But How Long Will It Remain Standing?
Amid the torrent of really bad news surrounding President Donald Trump, the past few days has offered what appears to be the final nail in the coffin of his always obviously fraudulent campaign promise to build a great wall on our southern border. Now, his critics don’t like to admit it, but Trump actually has constructed a fairly substantial barrier, one that has been remarkably resilient. Though it isn’t a physical structure.
It is, instead, a figurative wall surrounding his personal approval ratings.
One of the most underreported storylines of 2018 has been that Trump, while enduring the worst news year of any president since at least Richard Nixon’s last one in office, actually has significantly better (less bad?) approval ratings than he did a year ago. On December 20, 2017, Trump’s RealClearPolitics polling average was at a negative 18.3 points (and actually on an improving trend), while yesterday, exactly twelve months later, his approval rating is only 9.4 points below the percentage of people who disapprove of the job he is doing.
In a hyper-divided country, those nine points are extremely noteworthy, especially considering how polarizing this particular president is. But what is truly remarkable—and in need of an explanation—is how this happened despite a hurricane headwind of negative news stories about him during this time period.
While this is hardly a complete list, consider just some of the things which Trump endured over the past year, each one of which would have likely caused a normal president to suffer a great loss to their public popularity.
- There were three devastating, best-selling, and highly publicized books about Trump. Two of them were authored by highly respected people with tremendous access to him, or his administration.
- The New York Times ran — on two occasions — one of the most exhaustive investigation pieces in their storied history, taking apart the Trump family tax avoidance scheme, destroying Trump’s personal narrative in the process.
- A senior member of his administration wrote an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times basically admitting that Trump really isn’t president, and that there are adults around who are controlling him, as if he is a toddler.
- At a televised joint press conference he consistently sided with Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence agencies, and generally slobbered all over the man many Americans suspect has some sort of blackmail material on the U.S. president.
- His former national security advisor, campaign chairman and personal lawyer all pleaded guilty to serious crimes and agreed to cooperate with investigations of him (Michael Flynn technically did this just over a year ago, but obviously has been in the news because of this during that time period).
- He was exposed as having blatantly lied about two extramarital affairs and, while conspiring with the National Enquirer, paid the women off in what was determined by federal prosecutors to be a serious violation of campaign finance laws, crimes in which Trump was essentially found to be an un-indicted coconspirator.
- It was revealed that during most, if not all, of his presidential campaign Trump was actively trying to negotiate a deal with Russia to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, something he lied about numerous times.
- His charity, the Trump Foundation, was forced to disband as an overt fraud.
- He bragged constantly about a stock market that reached record highs, only to end the year with most stocks significantly down, partly thanks to his own reckless tariff policy.
- In a midterm election that was clearly a referendum on him, his party lost 40 House seats and only picked up two Senate seats despite having the most favorable map in modern history.
That list contains enough very legitimate bad news to totally take out multiple presidents, and yet none of it has left much more than a small statistical mark on his stranglehold over the Republican base. This despite the fact that his only real accomplishments during the same time period were passing the tax reform law and the against-all-odds confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Even his allegedly great diplomatic efforts in North Korea have turned out, unsurprisingly, to have been a counterproductive sham.
So now, as Trump faces yet another attack of bad news on multiple fronts (his border wall looks dead, he’s threatening to shut down the government, his popular defense secretary has resigned in protest over his outrageous withdraw from Syria, and the stock market is in near collapse), there is once again speculation over whether now Trump, finally, is going to see at least some crumbling within his political foundation. On the surface, there are good reasons to think this time might be different.
After all, these are all issues — the wall, Mattis resigning, and stocks — which are extremely important to different elements of the Republican base, and there have been some signs that even the state-run media is in a small revolt. In a rational world, in the next couple of weeks he could theoretically lose at least 5 points off of his approval rating, and maybe even more when you consider that the holidays are a time when one disgruntled former Trump supporter at a family get-together could cause a domino effect of dissent from within “Cult 45.”
However, if there is one thing we have learned in the last two years it is that, when in doubt, presume that nothing actually matters. Based on that sadly sound premise, I will tentatively side with those who believe that by the start of the New Year there will still likely be little hard evidence of new political damage having been done to Trump.
What makes this time definitely different though is this: If indeed Trump’s first poll numbers of 2019 haven’t gotten any worse, we will know for sure that the wall he has been able to selfishly build, all for his own political and legal protection, is basically impenetrable.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.