A poll by the Los Angeles Times and USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences supported suspicions of a Donald Trump presidential victory as early as September 2016. Despite initial national blowback against its fairly unique and unpopular results, the poll’s accuracy has carried into the President’s first term. Trump was doing reasonably well at the end of his first hundred days — 40 percent approvals with about 90 percent of his supporters saying they would reelect him. Throughout the course of the year, favorability ratings — both personal and policy-based — declined but remained above 35 percent. The poll’s most recent survey, the results of which were released Jan. 19, paint a far different picture.
The president’s approval rating stands at an all-time low of 32 percent, with the deficit between approval and disapproval climbing to 23 percent — from 7 percent in the poll after the first hundred days. Fifty-two percent said he had done less than he said he would with 31 percent of the opinion that he had done “much less.” Moreover, support in congressional races for Democrats over Republicans came in at 51 to 40 percent — a double-digit lead. Only two out of three Trump voters intended to vote for a Republican in the upcoming midterm elections, as opposed to eight in 10 Clinton voters who said they would continue to support Democrats.
Of course, these numbers reflect on the midterms in fairly obvious ways: Trump’s core base is atrophying in the absence of strong conservative victories and forgotten campaign promises; the reputation of the Republican Party is diminishing as a result, and Democrats seem to be doing a far better job at hanging onto their supporters. Aside from Trump’s abysmal approval ratings, the numbers disfavoring Republicans aren’t exactly surprising. Midterms are famously challenging for the party in power; back in 2014, Republicans were favored to win the Senate by 74 percent. The historic trend doesn’t really prove anything other than the fact that criticism, of course, is easy to espouse. And it’s far more galvanizing to champion the “ideal” policy than to defend a less-than-stellar performance failing to deliver on promises.
So the midterms will go as they may; favorables for Republicans look low, and the Democrats stand a good chance of taking back the House. But that greater principle — the ease of criticizing and philosophizing from the periphery — reflects something else about Trump’s viability when facing reelection in 2020. How is the man who barrelled through 2016 on the merits of his “outsider” status supposed to run, much less win, as an incumbent?
As Trump so boorishly shouted to a crowd of white voters, “I ask you this, crime, all of the problems … What the hell do you have to lose?” Voters in those same Rust Belt states — you know, the ones we’ve all been shouting and theorizing about like they’re cats that do math, or water on Mars — lended their support because “he promised change.” He’ll drain the swamp! He’ll fix the system! He’s not Washington elite! (Just New York elite, which is far less elitist!)
For all those who claim Trump’s base is made up of more than the Deplorables, here’s your chance to prove it. Because other than the racist, chauvinist and nativist rhetoric upon which he is so unafraid to capitalize (we haven’t forgotten that KKK endorsement, have we?) the only other broad-base appeal seemed to be that refreshingly honest-outsider quality — a person who, ostensibly, had all the makings of a strong and competent leader without the cumbersome “industry” ties. Assuming the Deplorables — the small, yet steady “Strongly Approve” base — prefer the former, who’s left in the latter category? It remains to be seen whether those people will remain after their non-Washingtonian, anti-establishment hero becomes an unpopular incumbent who spent his time entrenched in petty battles, lashing out at the media and being investigated for those same under-the-table wheelings and dealings that feed anti-establishment zeal.
If things look grim for Republicans in 2018, they’ll probably look grim in 2020, too, unless the Democrats completely fail to unify their message and/or nominate someone electable — not exactly an impossibility on either count. But if the Democrats pick up even a single Senate seat and win back the House as they’re forecasted to do, chances of major Republican legislative victories — and kept campaign promises — are nigh. This means Trump could head into 2020 without a commendable track record. If the GOP wants to hang on to the White House, it has to build Trump’s resume before the end of 2019. As for the rest of us, we can only hope that his lack of a viable track record (no swamp drained, no system fixed) coupled with the inability to run as a “change” candidate will render Trump an unfortunate blip on the radar, a reaction, a momentary primal scream — a placeholder president.
Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.