By David Thornton
The attacks against Mr. Trump have been withering and unrelenting. The problem for Democrats is that they have not been particularly effective.
Sure, President Trump’s approval rating has a double-digit deficit, but his numbers seem to have bottomed out in the mid-30s. The Real Clear Politics average found that Trump’s average approval was at its lowest in August at 37 percent. This was 20 points less than his disapproval rate. Since then, Trump’s numbers have improved only slightly to 39 percent, still a 16-point net disapproval rate.
The problem for Democrats is that Trump’s approval has always been low and a year of attacks has not markedly changed his numbers. This may be partly due to the large number of different tactics used by the Democrats, none of which has been a homerun. Trump has been charged with not keeping his promises, with having problems with his temperament, with lying and even with colluding with Russia and supporting white supremacists, but none of the attacks seems to be a silver bullet.
There has been speculation since 2015 that Trump’s antics would cost him support among Republicans. So far that has not happened. The Washington Examiner reported last month that two polls showed Republican support for Trump was still at 75 percent. Trump’s Republican support may be eroded by the failure to repeal Obamacare and enact tax reform, a rumored amnesty for DACA participants, not building the wall, or his recent pivots to Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but few Republicans would be likely to back a Democrat alternative.
To secure a victory in the midterms and 2020, Democrats need to offer independent voters something other than “Not Trump” and it is here that they are falling flat. Politico reports that the traditional Democrat platform planks don’t excite many voters outside the Democrat base. Voters worry that free college tuition proposals will still cost them money. Obamacare has gained majority approval and the idea of government health care for all is gaining popularity, but it still generates suspicion and is very divisive.
Democrats are learning the same lesson that the Republicans were faced with during the Obama era. Opposition to an unpopular president will only get you so far. An agenda that convinces people that you can make their lives better is needed to seal the deal.
It is on this point that one Democrat line of attack seems to show promise. Politico notes that a recent DCCC poll showed that Democrats lead President Trump by 17 points on the question of who “fights for people like me.” Last February, Trump and the Democrats each received 50 percent on the question. The change may be the result of Democrat charges that many Trump policies, such as financial deregulation, tax reform, and opposing Obamacare, are intended to benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else.
In the end, upcoming elections are likely to be referendums on President Trump’s job performance and the economy. If undecided voters feel that the country — and their own lives and careers — are going well, then they may decide to reward Trump and the Republicans despite their misgivings.
“He is the president,” Matt Canter, a focus group analyst told Politico. “The assessment that voters will make is, is he a good one or not? While Democrats like me have come to conclusions on that question, most of the voters who will decide future elections have not.”