Our view: One year later, Donald Trump voters aren’t moving the goalposts on his presidency; they’re not even looking at them
Not long ago, Politico reporter Michael Kruse spent some time in Johnstown, Pa., to talk to supporters of Donald Trump and find out what the once-reliably Democratic-voting community thought of the Republican president’s performance one year later. Was there any buyer’s remorse? What he discovered is a phenomenon hardly unique to Pennsylvania steelworkers: Far from unhappy with a president who has fulfilled few of his promises for the middle class, they were as devoted to Mr. Trump as ever. As Mr. Kruse noted, rather than modifying their expectations (blaming Democrats in Congress or establishment Republicans, for example), Trump supporters had gone the extra step of not bothering to measure his performance at all.
This tendency of core Trump supporters to forgive their president anything — to blindly accept his version of events even if it bears little resemblance to reality or even if he changes his story multiple times — helps explain much of what’s happening in Washington these days. The president’s current efforts to disassemble the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by appointing his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a longtime and vehement CFPB critic, to run it over Leandra English, the agency’s deputy director, ought to raise the collective eyebrows of his middle class base but probably won’t. Wall Street hates the CFPB with a passion, but average consumers should love it for protecting their interests in mortgage lending (prohibiting exotic lending and “teaser rates”) and passing along more than $12 billion to consumers (chiefly from fines that were collected for misleading practices).
It’s much the same with the Republican tax plan now pending in the Senate. There’s simply no objective measure that fails to point out that the wealthy and businesses make out far better than anyone else under the proposal. The latest report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finds that the nation’s poorest will be worse off than originally calculated while the bill adds $1.4 trillion to the deficit. And “poor” may be a misleading term for those who are left behind. By 2027, families earning as much as $75,000 — roughly $17,000 above the current U.S. median household income — will be among the worse off.
Similarly, President Trump’s decision to stand by Alabama’s Roy Moore, the Republican senate candidate accused of sexual misconduct with a handful of women and a 14-year-old girl, might be regarded as an extension of this kind of blind tribalism. Like other Moore supporters, Mr. Trump seems to be constantly looking for excuses not to believe the female accusers without explicitly saying so. This philosophy is evident in his recent claim that electing a liberal Democrat would be worse than electing someone with a history of pursuing teen girls when he was in his 30s. “[Doug] Jones would be a disaster,” the president tweeted Sunday, suggesting that the former federal prosecutor would be, among other things, “WEAK on Crime.”
Tribalism isn’t new, nor is con artistry. And neither is unique to the GOP. Democrats are struggling on how best to deal with sexual misconduct as well, but at least Sen. Al Franken has expressed shame for his behavior toward an adult woman, and Rep. John Conyers Jr. has voluntarily stepped down from his leadership post while he is investigated for harassing aides. The glimmer of hope is that there will be accountability. What is there for President Trump who has been accused of similar misconduct and once bragged to an “Access Hollywood” correspondent that his celebrity allowed him to grope women? According to a recent report in the New York Times, Mr. Trump has told several individuals including a U.S. senator that the widely reported recording of his confession — for which he apologized during the campaign — is a fake and that he never said what we heard him say. His spokeswoman told reporters Monday that the president accepts the tape as authentic. But then she was also busy explaining why Mr. Trump’s choice to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” while honoring Navajo code talker veterans earlier in the day was not wholly inappropriate.
That rewriting of history (or even casual racism) should come as no surprise. Mr. Trump’s overall popularity may be down with Americans (a 38 percent approval rating in a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll), but it’s still sky-high (81 percent in the same survey) among his Republican supporters. Perhaps it’s the fruit of the president’s efforts to label the objective news media as purveyors of “fake news”; perhaps it’s the desire of his base to disrupt the establishments, regardless of the consequences (a kick-the-table-over moment, as it were); or maybe it’s just the willingness of certain people to buy whatever this particular president is selling and ignore evidence to the contrary. No matter. It’s difficult to believe Mr. Trump will change his ways as long as his base, and Republicans generally, are so forgiving — and unwilling to hold him accountable — even when he takes actions against their best interests.