Almost immediately after Donald Trump authorized an airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Republicans saw a political opportunity. The gambit was immediately turned into a fundraising pitch and a series of campaign ads, with GOP operatives assuming the president's risky gambit would be a campaign winner.
It was around the same time that pundits started speculating about a possible bump in the polls for Trump, and the degree to which the president might benefit from a rally-around-the-flag dynamic that sometimes happens in the immediate aftermath of a national security confrontation.
Two weeks after the Jan. 3 airstrike, however, much of the public is not on board with Trump's latest posture toward Iran.
More Americans disapprove than approve of President Trump's handling of the situation with Iran, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. But they are split along party lines, and the results largely reflect the president's approval rating.By a 49%-42% margin, Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of Iran.... Trump's job approval is steady at 41%, with a majority of Americans (53%) continuing to disapprove of the job he's doing.
It's safe to say the president, after presenting himself as a hero for having risked a war with Iran, thought his approval rating would be higher than 41% in the wake of the Soleimani slaying.
The results from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll are roughly in line with the latest Quinnipiac poll, also released this week, which found 51% of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of Iran, while 43% approve.
The same survey found a 45% plurality believing that the killing of Soleimani has made the United States less safe, not more, which is the opposite of the line the White House has pushed aggressively in the wake of the airstrike.
It's difficult to say with confidence why, exactly, Trump approved this airstrike -- he said the other day his motivation "doesn't really matter" -- and the only thing that seems obvious is that the evolving, official White House explanations are difficult to take seriously.
With that in mind, it becomes easier to believe the president was motivated by political considerations, which makes the polling all the more significant: if Trump risked a war to help his political standing, he placed a bad bet.