How is it possible? says the Never Trumper to himself.
No, actually, I think this is easily explained.
It’s not out of the blue, remember. Two weeks ago I noticed that Democrats’ lead on the generic ballot had shrunk to its smallest level in nearly a year, due mainly to Trump’s improving job approval. After slogging along at 38-39 percent for most of the second half of last year, POTUS had crept up to 41-42 percent. Not a world of difference, but a few points can mean a lot in the midterms.
Today he’s at 43.5 percent in the RCP “poll of polls.” The last time he was that high was 363 days ago: May 4, 2017. He fired James Comey five days later and went splat. It took him this long to fully recover, something he’ll hopefully bear in mind the next time he gets the itch to can Bob Mueller.
That’s a pretty dramatic little spike over the past week or so. On April 28 he was at 41.9 percent, in line with where he’s been for most of this year. The next day he leaped four-tenths of a point. The day after that, six-tenths. The day after that, another four-tenths. Today he’s up another two-tenths. What gives? If 59 Michael Avenatti appearances on CNN can’t tank Trump’s approval, what are they good for?
Simple answer: The Korean peninsula suddenly — if only momentarily — looks more stable than it has in ages and Trump is being given lots of credit for it. The already famous handshake between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In at the border inside the DMZ came on April 27. That day was filled with chatter, and not just from righties, that Trump would deserve a Nobel prize if the peace between North and South stuck. Some liberals went so far as to admit that Obama would be praised to the skies by global media if a momentous detente like that had happened on his watch. Getting Kim to calm down, however briefly, is the biggest achievement of Trump’s presidency so far and there may be more to come. His own summit with Kim might go well; a formal end to the Korean War might be in the works. And for once, Trump’s belligerence on Twitter looks strategic and crafty, the “madman theory” of foreign policy at work, rather than weird and scattershot. “Little Rocket Man” may have concluded that POTUS is nuttier than he himself is and that the nuking of Pyongyang could be very much on the table. Time to make nice. If, if, if, if North Korea were somehow convinced to denuclearize peacefully (which is unlikely in the extreme, granted), it’d be the biggest foreign policy win for the U.S. since the end of the Cold War.
And all of that followed a successful state visit in the days before by Emmanuel Macron, which gave Trump serial opportunities for dignified presidential photo ops for the better part of a week. With the North Korea news then following, how could his job approval not go up?
More importantly, can it stay up? If he parlays the Kim/Moon summit into something more significant and durable, I think his baseline approval really might move north a bit and stick. Not everyone who rates him unfavorably does so because they dislike him. Some think he’s just not fit for the job. Brokering an end to the Korean War and a period of quiescence by the North would naturally lead those people to rethink. But if the Korean peace process falls apart or if POTUS does something newly weird and distracting, like trying to fire the Supreme Court or making Kanye the new head of the VA or whatever, it’ll be back down the tubes. To some extent the direction his numbers go isn’t up to him, but to some extent it is. And if he goes the right way, rumors of the Democrats’ House takeover might be greatly exaggerated.