I keep seeing some version of the following claim: Trump's response to Charlottesville will finally be the thing that does him in politically. This is the second time in a few days that I have addressed this point, but it warrants another post because, no, this isn't different, and no, Donald Trump isn't going to suffer any additional consequences.
1) Remember that overt racism is what brought Donald Trump into politics. Donald Trump became the top Republican in the country by leading the "birther" movement, and birtherism was all about race. In the 2012 American National Election Studies survey, we asked respondents where they thought Obama was born. Guess what? People's beliefs were closely connected to their responses to questions about things like whether or not the legacy of slavery still affects African-Americans today. What does that have to do with where Obama was born? Not a fucking thing! It's just about race. Like birtherism. If you want to play around with the data yourself, here's a great site I use in class all the time. (If you are one of my students, you probably have the URL memorized!) Donald Trump got into politics as a racist demagogue. Anyone who expects consequences now... have you been paying any attention?
2) Trump's overt racism, even when it prompts expressions of scorn from other Republicans, never leads anywhere. When he asserted that Judge Curiel couldn't oversee the fraud case against "Trump University" because he was a "Mexican," later amended to "Mexican-American," even Paul Ryan had to admit that it was "textbook" racism. What happened? What did Ryan or the rest of the party do? Nothing. Oh, and after claiming that he would never settle because only guilty people settle? Trump settled the case against that bullshit "university." Just in case you missed that detail...
3) Pussygate. Remember when pussygate was supposed to be the end of Trump? Remember how everyone both condemned him and predicted his doom? Yes, he had a hell of an assist from James Comey at the end there, but people actually voted for the guy who brags about committing sexual assault.
So, tell me again why this is different, and now, Trump has finally crossed a line?
There is. No. Line.
Trump's approval rating is down below 40%. Gallup has him at 36% as of this morning. This leads us to two questions. How low can it go, and does it matter?
On the first question, without an economic collapse or major foreign policy disaster, not much lower. He's down to his core supporters. The people who still support him are the ones who are basically racist, misogynist, xenophobic... you know, the hardcore deplorables. I can't believe I have to type this shit. I'm a political science professor. I used to be the guy who never took a public position. Now, I'm publicly stating that if you support the President... well... But seriously... How hard is it to say that the nazis are the bad guys and that when they are involved, it's not a "many sides" kind of thing?! Help me out here, Indy!
Thank you. And it's a good thing they never made another movie after that one, right? Right?!
Anyway, the basic question we need to keep in mind about Trump is as follows. Trump has always been overtly racist. Anyone who has ever supported Trump should be asked the following question: Do you support Trump because he is a racist, or despite the fact that he is a racist? If Trump's numbers are to go down further in the wake of this incident, it must be the case that Trump's remaining supporters include those who support him despite his racism. What is the balance between those who cheer his racism and those who merely tolerate it? That is hard to measure at this point. I'm just guessing here, and I don't like guesswork, but at this point, I suspect that Trump is down to those who support him because of his racism, in which case his numbers won't go down because of this incident.
On the second question-- the consequences of low approval ratings-- well, that's more complicated. While Samuel Kernell's Going Public is based on the argument that public approval is a crucial tool for moving public opinion, and thereby forcing Congress's hand lest they risk their own electoral fortunes, most presidential scholars see public approval as a lesser matter in terms of policy efficacy. Congress right now basically doesn't give a shit what Trump thinks. Scholars in the Neustadt tradition see professional reputation as being more important, and the only people in Congress who have a shred of respect for Trump are the mouth-breathers like Steve King, and this worthless sycophant...
The flip-side, though, is the question of whether or not Trump's approval ratings could get so low that congressional Republicans decide to stop protecting him. Could Ryan or McConnell decide to start punishing him, somehow, for the shit he does?
That's a big, "NO," right there. This was the topic of my post the other day. Congressional Republicans just don't have that many options for imposing consequences on Trump, and the options they have, they aren't going to take.
So, here we are. Trump is doing what he has always done. His approval ratings are low, but probably can't go much lower without either an economic downturn or a foreign policy disaster, and congressional Republicans won't impose any consequences on him.
In other words, same old, same old...