The line of the day comes from the opening skit on Saturday Night Live when Kenan Thompson, portraying a General, tells President Trump, played of course by Alec Baldwin how the aliens from the planet, Zorblat 9 have penetrated America. Thomson tells Trump the aliens “have the most advanced weaponized technology we have ever seen,” and asks, “What should we do?” Trump’s reply” “We are going to bring back coal.” At another point, a member of the military informs the president that Trump Tower has been attacked but that, “luckily no lives were lost because no one was staying at the hotel.”
To anyone who has followed politics, it’s obvious that Donald Trump never had a honeymoon. Having lost the popular vote and in the midst of a series of both self-inflicted gaffes and ill-conceived moves by both himself and his staff, his popularity has been impacted. In fact, a recent Gallup survey has his approval rating at 39% and while the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill pegged it at 41%, it noted that 58% view him as “embarrassing.” Others, among them Reuters, have found it to be a little closer, though his deficit is still above his favorables. So while it is not possible to project what the president’s popularity would be four years down the road if the trend continued, would it be safe to assume that he’d lose re-election were it held today? Probably, yes. But anyone hoping for a Herbert Hoover/Barry Goldwater style blowout would likely be disappointed.
The 2016 election was decided by a very small number of swing voters – that’s just a fact. Therefore, it’s probably a fair assumption that at least some swing voters that decided the presidential election would go back and change their votes if they could. This applies to suburbanites as well as the rural, working class voters. But how many? And would Democrats be able to woo their own base to the polls who did not show up in urban areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent Pennsylvania?
Consider this: the small, rural counties in those states voted so violently for Trump that, while many of these areas are lightly populated, when county after county gives him 65-70% of the vote, the urban areas are hard-pressed to overcome it. In fact, absent a robust turnout, it’s almost impossible.
The fact is, many non-urban communities in Michigan and Wisconsin gave Trump near record margins for any Presidential candidate and turnout in Detroit and Milwaukee was abysmal. His mind-boggling showings in Central and Western Pennsylvania were so counter-intuitive to what nearly every political forecaster had expected (Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report was the exception) that Phil’del and its collar counties could not save the state for Clinton.
Even states where Mrs. Clinton prevailed saw that trend. Out-state Minnesota gave Trump such punishing margins that local Democrats needed every bit of his bleeding in exurban Minneapolis-St. Paul to help Clinton limp to a 1.5% win, far below what had been expected. And Upstate New York gave Clinton a thrashing, though the city and Westchester in particular made it impossible for Trump to get close. The number of State Senate districts Clinton carried in Rhode Island dropped to 28, compared to unanimous backing for Obama in ’12 (The Daily Kos notes Trump “improved on Mitt Romney’s margin in 33 Senate seats”). This contributed to an 8% drop in Clinton’s margin in the Ocean State.
As for 2020, elections are elections and 2016 is the past. But as Shakespeare said, “past is prologue,” and there are signs that things can’t be counted on to be totally different in hearts and minds in ’20.
When folks take part in change elections, history suggests they want to give the new guy a chance. In 2012, voters gave Barack Obama the benefit even though many of the problems on his plate when he walked into the Oval Office four years earlier had not completely evaporated. Voters wanted to give him an opportunity to prove himself and his programs, a feat made easier by the fact that he and his family were personally very liked. Trump doesn’t have the likability luxury, at least if the approvals are to be believed. In fact, he has credibility flaws that must be addressed. But he had that in 2016 so, that’s not his problem right now.
During the campaign, Trump promised the world to what has become known as white, working class voters. Many have serious doubt that he’ll be able to carry out all of his promises. But if the perception is that he is trying, and not making things worse off, they might be willing to grant him some latitude. After all, if 2016 showed anything, it was that voters were willing to overlook even the deepest flaws because they felt as if Trump was talking to them. One gift Trump does have is a voice of affectation. He is not contrived. That has certainly proven detrimental in some regards And Trump does not have the likability luxury. Obama took a quintessential working class district, Pennsylvania 17th district in 2012 but, thanks to defections from Mitt Romney carried New York’s 22nd Congressional district 49.2-48.8%. Four years later, Trump won by an unambiguous 55-39% margin. Minnesota’s 8th district (the Iron Range) preferred Obama 52-46%. But Clinton won just 38%. Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional district gave Obama 55%. But Clinton won 45%.
Jenna Johnson in a Washington Post piece cited a Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll that gave the president a 42-49% approval rating in Iowa. The Hawkeye state is not particularly pivotal to a national election except perhaps in a 2000 style extraordinarily close race. But it would be remiss to omit the fact that Trump’s nine point win was a reversal of Obama’s six point victory. Many voters Johnson interviewed feel the president is going too far, too fast, with one voter using the term “guns blazing.” On the other hand, Macomb County, Michigan is pivotal to national success. The impetus of the term, “Reagan Democrats,” Macomb backed Obama twice but swung back to Trump last November. CNN National Correspondent John King recently interviewed 35 Macomb Trump voters and most were still sticking with him – at least as long as they believes he is fighting for their interests.
Yes, 2020 is a long time away but while past is prologue, performance is better than promise. And while more folks than not would probably vote to reject Trump due to his rhetorical fumbles, at the end of the day, jobs, rather than stability will ultimately determine how far he’ll fall.