According to Politico, President Trump may be Teflon.
Edward-Isaac Dovere reports that Democrats seeking to translate President Trump’s general levels of unpopularity into political gold are having a rough go of it. He writes:
Data from a range of focus groups and internal polls in swing states paint a difficult picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming.
What’s the big problem? Apparently, there are several. First off, Bernie Sanders economics isn’t convincing people. Dovere writes, “Many of the ideas party leaders have latched on to in an attempt to appeal to their lost voters — free college tuition, raising the minimum wage to $15, even Medicaid for all — test poorly among voters outside the base.”
Then there are the attacks on Trump himself. Trump is seen as a chaos agent, but attacks on Trump aren’t seen as solidifying — they’re seen instead as a contribution to the chaos. Furthermore, the constant levels of chaos around Trump actually reinforce the general notion that he’s a “change agent” rather than a dilettante.
Worse for Democrats, Trump is being given credit for the continuing strong economy. And personal attacks on him have been so variegated as to dilute the message entirely. Voters don’t care that Trump fibs, and they don’t think the Russia investigation matters. Furthermore, attempts to paint Trump as a closeted white supremacist are failing, too, particularly since Trump successfully pivoted the issue toward the leftist insistence on ripping down monuments more generally. And Trump has the advantage of immigration and trade, too.
Democrats’ big problem isn’t Trump, though: it’s them. Democrats haven’t convinced Americans that they stand for anything beyond opposition to Trump himself, and that opposition has come on inconsistent grounds. Do they oppose Trump because he’s too conservative? Do they oppose him because he’s evil incarnate? Well, he just cut a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Do they think Trump is incompetent? Well, that undercuts the argument that he poses a severe danger to the country.
Perhaps it isn’t that Trump is Teflon, but that he’s rubber and the Democrats are glue.
Now, all of this could be exaggerated. In 2003, Bill Keller of The New York Times Magazine bewailed President George W. Bush’s seeming invincibility. “Bush's seeming invincibility to bad news may be exasperating to Democrats,” Keller wrote. In 2005, shortly after President George W. Bush’s re-election, Ellen Goodman of The Boston Globe lamented Bush’s apparent untouchability. She wrote, “Once upon a 1980s time, Ronald Reagan was dubbed the Teflon president because nothing stuck to the Gipper. Today, Bush makes Reagan look like Velcro.” Within two years, Democrats had retaken Congress, and four years later, Barack Obama would enter the White House.
And there are statistics that cut in Democrats’ favor, too. According to Politico:
DCCC polling showed that on the question of who “fights for people like me,” Trump and Democrats were split at 50 percent each in February but that Democrats are now ahead by 17 points.
The latest generic congressional ballot polling has Democrats up by six points — although that’s down from double digits in mid-August, probably due to Trump’s strong handling of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. And Democrats have begun picking up odd Republican seats on the state level, as they did in Oklahoma last night. Some Republicans in swing districts have been retiring, too, which is never a good sign for maintaining political dominance. And finally, there is the move by the Mercer family to fund primary challenges to supposed Trump opponents, throwing solid Republican seats into turmoil.
All of which is to say this: it’s too early to know how 2018 is going to go. But if Democrats think they can sit around and rely on Trump’s unpopularity to see them through, they’ll be doing exit interviews alongside Hillary Clinton soon enough.