As I noted in June, it is tough for any president to forge and maintain a national political coalition, and perhaps particularly tough for Pres. Trump to maintain his. At the 200-day mark, I don’t know whether we’re already seeing cracks in his coalition… but we may be seeing where those cracks could come.
To paraphrase and expand on what Chris Stirewalt (political editor at Fox News) recently told Mary Katharine Ham in the final segment of a Federalist Radio Hour, it might be useful to look at Trump’s coalition in terms of the degree to which that support is transactional.
At the surface level, we are considering people who are more interested in policy versus those who are less interested. The most “interested in policy” level is where the non-tedious part of the ongoing gripe session between Trump supporters and so-called (former) NeverTrumpers takes place.
But this spectrum continues, even within the pool of Trump supporters. There are conservatives who seem to be pulling the whistle chain on the Trump Train with enthusiasm… until it looks like Trump might fire AG Jeff Sessions, or even NSA H.R. McMaster. When their pet agenda items seem threatened, they ring the alarm bell instead. Many on the Trump Train will say it’s enough to annoy liberals, until it isn’t.
Then you reach the Trump Democrats. If Stanley Greenberg‘s focus groups are any indication, they still loathe GOP Congressional leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell — but not for the reasons other Trump supporters and many “true conservatives” in the prior category do.
Trump Democrats are disaffected voters who like Trump’s third-party quality and thus may be far more resistant to being assimilated into the Republican party than Reagan Democrats were. They may be less interested in policy, beyond Trump’s core messages on immigration and trade, but arguably they are no less transactional than any other part of Trump’s coalition.
Trump’s dilemma is that his brand is all about winning — and yet many of his potential wins strain his coalition. One version of this dilemma is that the major agenda items in the GOP Congress could turn off Trump Democrats. Another version is that Trump’s populist agenda on trade risks alienating rural voters regardless of whether he keeps his promises or breaks them.
The conventional wisdom is that there is a “core” Trump vote that will never abandon him. But what if his margin of victory was supplied mostly by people whose default attitude is disappointment in and resentment of politicians? If they see Trump as becoming the establishment or (worse still) beaten by it, the floor could turn out to be lower than people are thinking on Day 200.
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