IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump mistakenly brings renewed attention to his unpopularity

Trump doesn't like the latest polls, so sees them in a fun-house mirror that offers a version of reality he prefers to this one.
Image: US President Donald J. Trump
epa06525535 US President Donald J. Trump speaks on domestic violence during a meeting on taxes, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, USA,...

Donald Trump's poor poll numbers tend not to generate as much attention as they used to. The president is unpopular; we all know he's unpopular; and there's no reason to make a fuss about routine, predictable news.

Trump, however, wants to talk about it anyway.

"Rasmussen and others have my approval ratings at around 50%, which is higher than Obama, and yet the political pundits love saying my approval ratings are 'somewhat low.' They know they are lying when they say it. Turn off the show - FAKE NEWS!"

Well, someone's lying, but in this case, I don't think it's political pundits.

Let's start with some basics: no recent national poll has the president's approval rating "around 50%." Even Rasmussen, the Republican-friendly pollster that Trump singled out, puts the president's most recent support at 44%. Some major national pollsters, including Gallup, Monmouth, and Quinnipiac, each show Trump below 40%.

And then there's the hilarious idea that Trump's support is "higher than Obama." While I realize this president tends to see most political developments through an Obama-centric lens, the truth is, Trump's poll numbers, at least at this stage, are the lowest of any president in the modern era. Trump isn't especially close to where Obama was at this point in the Democrat's presidency.

In other words, by objective, verifiable metrics, everything Trump said on the subject is demonstrably untrue. What I think is more interesting, however, is why the president is calling attention to his unpopularity.

Ordinarily, Politics 101 says that a president struggling with the public should dismiss the significance of polling. "I'm doing what I think is best for the nation," a president is supposed to say, "and I'll leave concerns about volatile polls to others." Barack Obama used to say that the ebb and flow of day-to-day politics was "noise" he didn't have time for.

Trump, meanwhile, seems to think he's better off lying, embracing a make-believe landscape in which quantitative data doesn't say what it clearly says. Rather, the president evidently sees the figures he prefers to believe.

This generally isn't what "very stable geniuses" do in response to evidence, but more to the point, I think Trump does this because it's vastly easier than changing direction.

After more than a year of effort, if you were the least popular president since the dawn of modern polling -- despite a healthy economy and generally favorable conditions -- you might consider some kind of course correction. That, however, would require a combination of effort and the reevaluation of key assumptions. This president has no interest in either.

And so we're left with a fantasy in which plain, black-and-white numbers are seen through a fun-house mirror, offering a version of reality Trump prefers to this one.

What should worry the White House, however, is the lack of a buffer. Trump's support is hovering around 40% despite low unemployment and decent economic growth. If the economy stalls, or there's an unforeseen crisis that rattles the public's confidence even more, there's no reservoir of good will for this president to draw upon.