Trump’s troops want action, hit media and weak Republicans
Turnout at rallies shows base for president remains strong
Rosanne Ponkowski of Michigan says it’s no mystery why President Trump’s poll numbers have been slipping while the economy is improving: It’s the fault of the media and weak-kneed Republicans in Congress.
Mrs. Ponkowski, president of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, has been holding a series of Trump rallies at diners and other spots across the state in the past month. She said frustration is building among Trump supporters against media and congressional Republicans.
“When you’ve got a press that doesn’t tell the whole story and a lot of the public doesn’t know where to look for accurate information, that’s what you’re going to get,” she said about the president’s low approval ratings. “We feel that Mr. Trump is getting quite a bit done in spite of the negative press that’s been piling up on him and in spite of the Republican Congress that’s fighting him also.”
The dedicated turnout at these Trump rallies — about 10 more are planned through the end of October — demonstrates what Democratic pollster Celinda Lake believes could be a worrisome trend for Democrats next year: Although Mr. Trump has lost some Republican support, his base still appears to be more motivated than Democrats’ core voters.
“The Trump base remains energized,” said Ms. Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. “Not all the Trump voters, but the base is still pretty energized. The Democratic base is energized as well, much more so than the fall of 2016, but still not as energized as the Trump base.”
Mr. Trump’s job approval rating dropped this week to 37.9 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. The gap between those who approve of his performance and those who disapprove has reached 19 percentage points, the biggest deficit of his young presidency.
But the public’s view of Congress is far dimmer. A CNN poll released Thursday found that 68 percent of respondents think the Republican Congress is a failure.
Approval of the Republican leaders in Congress dropped from 39 percent in January to 24 percent now. Mr. Trump received the approval of 38 percent of Americans in the CNN poll.
The president still enjoys a significant majority of support from Republicans: 76 percent in the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll, 80 percent in the CNN poll. But surveys are finding that Mr. Trump is losing some of the intensity of his Republican support — voters who previously said they “strongly approve” of the president but have shifted to “somewhat approve.”
A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed Mr. Trump for the first time with a negative net approval rating among white Americans without college degrees, with 43 percent approving of the president and 50 percent disapproving.
“There has been some erosion in intensity, and that goes across the board, including his hard-core base of non-college-educated white voters,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research. “It’s a combination of temperament issues and lack of progress on significant accomplishments legislatively.”
Asked for examples of Mr. Trump’s temperament problem with voters, Mr. Ayres pointed to his aggressiveness on social media.
“The constant tweeting, attacking anything that moves,” he said. “Most people realize that’s not the best way to get something done.”
Ms. Lake said Mr. Trump’s declining poll numbers after six months in office also show the effects of shifting from campaigning to governing.
“There’s a tipping point where you begin to own the lack of results on your own agenda,” she said. “You can’t be the outsider anymore.”
The failure of the Republican-majority Senate to approve a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, one of Mr. Trump’s top priorities, exposed renewed friction this week between the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. After Mr. McConnell told an audience in Kentucky that Mr. Trump had “excessive expectations” about the pace of work in Congress, the president hit back at Mr. McConnell in a series of tweets.
“Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!” the president said before breakfast Thursday.
Later, Mr. Trump told reporters that he is not sure if he wants Mr. McConnell to keep his job as floor leader.
Mrs. Ponkowski said Trump supporters in Michigan are eager for the midterm elections to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and vote for more lawmakers who aren’t “Republican in name only.”
“People are really excited,” she said. “We need to get rid of some of the RINOs and replace them with conservatives that love this country and want to make America great again.”
As the president tries to hold on to the supporters who propelled him to victory in November, Ms. Lake said, he is encountering a difficult policy balancing act. He needs to appeal to blue-collar voters as well as what she calls “the right-wing element,” who sometimes have different priorities.
“It puts him in an awkward position,” she said. “For the base to stay energized, you need to do things like the Muslim ban, and [a ban on transgender people in the military], and [defunding] Planned Parenthood. But to get back your full vote, you need to focus on things like steel jobs and fixing Obamacare instead of repealing it. It’s getting increasingly difficult to hold this coalition together.”
The president and his advisers may have hit upon the rare initiative that appeals to both groups with Mr. Trump’s endorsement last week of a Senate Republican bill that would cut limits on legal immigration and prioritize immigrants with higher job skills. Ms. Lake said the issue appeals to swing voters worried about immigrants taking away low-skill jobs from U.S. citizens.
“That is part of an economic message,” she said. “That argument has increased in salience.”
Americans’ attitudes about the economy are improving, according to a CBS poll released Thursday. In the survey, 69 percent rated the economy as good, up 5 points from June; 30 percent said it was bad.
In Michigan, Mrs. Ponkowski said Trump supporters are angry that the media are “not telling the story of the economy being up.”
“They’re concentrating on Russia having attacked the election,” she said of the press. “Their focus is on getting rid of Mr. Trump and make him as ineffective as possible. Where I live, housing sales are booming, small businesses are booming. People are excited. I mean, they’re angry at the press, they’re angry at the Republicans in Congress, and they’re fully supporting our president.”
The Michigan Conservative Coalition began holding the Trump rallies last month at the suggestion of Meshawn Maddock of Oakland County, a Trump delegate last year, Mrs. Ponkowski said.
“People want to know what they can do to help our president. They want to know they’re not the only ones out there feeling frustrated by the press. We need to keep the momentum going so they come out to vote in 2018.”