Has there ever been any­thing like this?

The Standard Journal - - COM­MEN­TARY - By Steve and Cokie Roberts NEA Con­trib­u­tors

What a year we have lived through since Don­ald Trump came out on stage and pledged “to ev­ery ci­ti­zen of our land that I will be pres­i­dent for all Amer­i­cans.” As jour­nal­ists who have been around this town for­ever and cov­ered pol­i­tics for decades, we are con­stantly asked about the Trump pres­i­dency: “Has there ever been any­thing like this?”

The an­swer is no. No t o ev­ery­thing. There’s never been a pres­i­dent who end­lessly lit­i­gated the last elec­tion — which he won, by the way. There’s never been a pres­i­dent who had lower ap­proval rat­ings this early in his term: 37 per­cent, in the most re­cent ABC poll. Never has a pres­i­dent called our jus­tice sys­tem a “joke” and “a laugh­ing­stock.” Never has a pres­i­dent left so many State Depart­ment po­si­tions un­filled, at a time when crises are erupt­ing around the globe.

And never, of course, has a pres­i­dent set pol­icy on Twit­ter.

All of the chaos sur­round­ing the con­stantly churn­ing White House is clearly tak­ing its toll, as the elec­tions this week in New Jersey and Vir­ginia made clear. Vot­ers in those states said, by a 2-to-1 mar­gin, that they were show­ing up in op­po­si­tion to the Trump pres­i­dency, not in sup­port of it.

And there is much in the ABC poll that would send most pres­i­dents scram­bling to try to set things straight. Ma­jori­ties say Trump’s not de­liv­er­ing on his ma­jor cam­paign prom­ises, that he’s not hon­est and trust­wor­thy, that he’s not a strong leader, that he hasn’t brought needed change and that he doesn’t have the right per­son­al­ity or tem­per­a­ment to be pres­i­dent.

As he makes the rounds in Asia, with North Korea fore­most on the agenda, a shock­ing two-thirds of those polled don’t trust their pres­i­dent to act re­spon­si­bly in han­dling that sit­u­a­tion.

But in­stead of try­ing to fix what’s wrong, Trump rails against the me­dia, the Democrats and the Clin­tons while pro­claim­ing that he has done more in the time he’s been in of­fice “than any pres­i­dent in his­tory.”

He prob­a­bly be­lieves that. That’s the part that’s scary. Can­dide-like, Trump seems to think that be­cause he’s in charge, this must be “the best of all pos­si­ble worlds.”

When Fox News’ Laura In­gra­ham re­cently asked the pres­i­dent about the num­ber of va­can­cies in the State Depart­ment, he replied: “The one that mat­ters is me. I’m the only one that mat­ters be­cause when it comes to it, that’s what pol­icy is go­ing to be.”

Some Trump vot­ers now seem to un­der­stand that the elec­tion was all about him, that he is “the one that mat­ters,” not them. In an NBC/ Wall Street Jour­nal poll of “Trump coun­ties,” only 32 per­cent say the coun­try is bet­ter off than when their can­di­date was elected, and a ma­jor­ity sees no clear agenda com­ing out of the White House.

So now what? Where do we go from here? Democrats think this head- scratch­ing year works for them — that by mak­ing the next elec­tion all about Trump, they can win.

The elec­tions this week cer­tain- ly give them rea­son to hope that’s true. But there are some warn­ing signs for Democrats as well. Among those like­li­est to vote next year — peo­ple who turned out in the last midterm and say they are cer­tain to do so again — Democrats and Re­pub­li­cans are dead-even in the ABC sur­vey. Those vot­ers also end up tied over which party best rep­re­sents their val­ues.

Democrats might be able to up­set those num­bers by get­ting more of their core vot­ers to the polls than they usu­ally do in off-year elec­tions. That hap­pened in Vir­ginia, where mi­nori­ties showed up in much larger num­bers than they did in the last two gu­ber­na­to­rial years, and they voted for Demo­cratic can­di­date Ralph Northam by an over­whelm­ing 80 per­cent. In New Jersey, it was an even higher 83 per­cent of the mi­nor­ity vote that went for Demo­crat Phil Mur­phy. Both men lost the white vote, and in both cases, it didn’t mat­ter.

But there are still ob­sta­cles for the party to over­come. Fewer vot­ers over­all — 27 per­cent — trust Democrats in Congress to make the right de­ci­sions for the coun­try, com­pared to a piti­ful, but still higher, 34 per­cent who say the same for Trump.

So no, there’s never been any­thing like this. The year since Don­ald Trump was elected has pro­duced a con­fused and con­cerned coun­try. And in look­ing to­ward the Democrats, many vot­ers don’t see any­thing that at­tracts them.

An­other chaotic year be­fore the next elec­tion could change their minds.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­[email protected] gmail.com.

Steve and Cokie Roberts

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