Reporters love writing about the persistence of the Trump coalition.
I sense it’s partly out of surprise and wonder. Like most college educated Americans, reporters have trouble believing there are people who still stand by this president, despite all the lies, all the chaos, all the broken promises, all the racism, all the stupidity.
Okay, I’m a little surprised too.
Hence, an apparent rise of a point or two in Trump’s approval rating generates paroxysms of reporting, analysis and examination, along with a few barely disguised expressions of disbelief.
In fact, Trump averaged 85 percent approval among Republicans in March. To put that in perspective, Barack Obama averaged a lesser 80 percent approval among Democrats at the comparable point in his presidency — a comparison that puts Trump’s ratings in a favorable light. Moreover, Trump’s ratings among his co-partisans are only a few points lower today than they were when he began his term.
So far, these data seem to confirm the conventional story line: Trump has retained the support of his base in spite of everything. Former Trumpers seem an infinitesimally small group.
However, there is another side to this tale.
While Trump’s support has remained solid among Republicans, the number of GOP identifiers has shrunk.
Pew annualizes its data and finds the percentage of Americans identifying as Republicans declined by 2 points since 2015 and 2016, while the number of Democrats grew by 2–3 points.
Small numbers to be sure, but since almost all Republicans like the president and almost all Democrats detest him, it is a real loss.
Gallup’s monthly data suggests an even bigger drop in Republican identification since the beginning of 2017 and a larger increase in the number of Democrats.
Analysts poring over these data about Republicans have concluded that whatever happens this November, Trump is a shoe-in for re-nomination in 2020. Headlines have declared his potential challengers have no path to victory.
Perhaps the greatest sign of the president’s vulnerability to intraparty competition emerged from a relatively little-noticed poll in New Hampshire.
I hate to make too much of just one survey, but the results were striking.
The incumbe nt president of the United States led Ohio Gov. John Kasich by just 6 points in a GOP primary matchup.
To put that number in context — when President Lyndon Johnson won New Hampshire by a slightly larger margin in 1968, he withdrew from the race rather than face the certain defeat augured by the New Hampshire results.
I’m not sure an extreme narcissist like Trump would choose the same course as Johnson, but the latter was a lot more politically savvy. He knew what his fate would be if he remained in the race.
New Hampshire is unique in some ways, but quite similar to the rest of the country in others.
The Granite State GOP is not some hotbed of hatred for Donald Trump. His approval rating among Republicans there is 80 percent, just shy of its national level.
On the other hand, New Hampshire Republicans got to know John Kasich better than Republicans in any other state, save Ohio. He placed second to Trump in the state’s 2016 primary. You would not expect him to be doing as well in any other state, with the possible exception of home.
Nonetheless, in their last New Hampshire meeting, Trump did defeat Kasich by a nearly 20-point margin.
I’m predicting neither a Trump withdrawal, nor a Trump primary defeat.
But there is at least a hint that his command of the Republican Party is not as complete as the approval numbers suggest.
It’s just possible that in today’s hyperpartisan environment, when team members feel compelled to rally around their captain, approval numbers tell us less than they might once have about a president’s real standing in their own party.
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.