After Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces, George W. Bush saw a boost in his popularity. After Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces, Barack Obama also enjoyed a bump in support. Polls showed the increases were temporary but, at least for a while, quite real.
And with this in mind, it stood to reason that Donald Trump’s standing might improve at least a little in the wake of U.S. forces killing ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. So, let’s take stock. The day before the Baghdadi announcement, according to FiveThirtyEight, the Republican president’s approval rating stood at 42.8%.
Two weeks later, as of this morning, Trump’s rating is 41.2%. There have been some minor fluctuations over the 17 days since the Baghdadi announcement, but nothing that anyone could plausibly characterize as a “bump” in the polls.
All of which suggests the developments didn’t affect the president’s public standing at all. It’s worth considering why.
It’s obviously speculative, but much of this probably stems from the public’s unfamiliarity with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Americans were very familiar with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden for many years, but for the most part, the ISIS founder was not a household name.
Second, it’s a rather crowded news environment. While the Baghdadi news generated considerable national coverage, it was announced on a weekend morning, and it wasn’t long before attention shifted back to the impeachment crisis dogging Trump and his team.
But part of me also wonders whether the president might have seen a different public reaction if he’d handled the announcement more responsibly.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump royally screwed up his public remarks, alerting the public to the developments. The president spent a fair amount of time sharing made-up details, not only about the raid, but also about himself and elements of his record that exist only in his mind.
Given an opportunity to appear presidential and deliver important news to the public in a somber way, Donald Trump instead chose to act like Donald Trump, using a tone and rhetoric one might expect to hear on a playground. As Americans learned of what transpired in Syria, they also learned of a presentation in which Trump tried to celebrate himself in a cringe-worthy display that lent itself to easy ridicule.
Is it any wonder the president didn’t see any bump in the polls?