The president claims it completely exonerates him. That may or may not be true, but let’s stipulate that such a conclusion is the president’s best case scenario. It could be much worse for him, but “total exoneration” is by far the best the president can hope for and it’s the message he and his minions have been trumpeting for days now.
So, if the report does exonerate him, what kind of lift in public support can the president expect as a result? About nil.
Trump’s claims produced not even a wiggle in his approval rating.
FiveThirtyEight’s running average put his approval rating at 42 percent approve 53 percent disapprove the day before Mueller’s report was delivered to the Department of Justice and at the same 42 percent to 53 percent Tuesday, a net disapproval of 11 points (approval minus disapproval). Not even a jiggle.
Just how bad is that?
Since the advent of polling, no president has had a lower net approval at this point in his term.
(Approval of Ronald Reagan’s performance was 1 percentage point lower than Trump’s, but this president’s disapproval is 4 points higher than Reagan’s. And Reagan rode one of the biggest economic growth spurts in U.S. history, from about this point, to an approval rating of nearly 60 percent by the time his reelection rolled around. No one is projecting anything like equivalent growth over the next two years.)
No president in modern times has been reelected with an approval rating in the September before Election Day below 49 percent.
Trump has never reached that level. Every president, except Trump, exceeded that mark sometime during their first two years.
In short, Trump’s troubles remain real and enduring.
How can that be, absent a Mueller indictment?
In part because, according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 29 percent of Americans believe the president’s claim that Mueller’s report clears Trump of wrongdoing.
But it’s more than that. Americans have seen quite a lot of this president’s behavior and have had time to reach some firm conclusions about him. They have, and those conclusions are pretty negative.
Quinnipiac pollsters found just 22 percent of voters believe this president is a good role model for children.
Forty-four percent think he is mentally unstable.
Sixty-five percent think the president is dishonest. Lest you retort that people believe all politicians are dishonest, half the country says Trump is less honest than previous presidents.
Fifty-eight percent believe he lacks good leadership skills.
Only 39 percent feel he cares about the average American.
By a 35 point margin, YouGov found Americans calling Trump’s comments about John McCain “inappropriate attacks on the memory of the late senator.”
People have learned about Donald Trump in myriad ways — from the “Access Hollywood” tape, to his too frequent tweets, to his daily outrages — like it or not, he’s a regular part of many Americans’ lives.
The totality of Trump’s behavior has made a deep and likely immutable impression on his fellow citizens — and it’s mostly negative.
Despite his obsession with it, the Russia investigation was never Trump’s primary problem. The president himself is his own worst enemy. He has revealed who he is to the American people and they find him fundamentally distasteful as a human being and as a leader.
Nothing Mueller concluded will change that.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.