New thorn in Trump's side: "Always Trumpers"?

Meh. No one named in this WaPo story is a real “Always Trumper.” Chuck Grassley, John Thune, and the Wall Street Journal editorial board are all Trumpers of convenience, people who defend him purely because their own constituencies insist upon it. POTUS hasn’t lost any true “Always Trumpers.” His famous line about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing any votes — among bona fide Always Trumpers — is memorable because it’s true.

But the WaPo piece makes a point worth noting notwithstanding that. It is true that Trumpers of convenience have been bolder lately about disagreeing with him as his polls have declined. Not very bold, admittedly. Even now, the criticisms tend to be framed in terms of how other people are failing the president (e.g., his campaign), not how the president himself is failing. Direct criticisms of Trump tend to be no more scathing than gentle suggestions that perhaps he should refine how he communicates certain points.

Yet there’s some real change here, just as there is in McConnell’s public support for mask-wearing. Congressional Republicans are grasping for ways to put some distance between themselves and the president without putting so much distance that he notices and starts tweeting at his base that the treacherous RINOs are abandoning him. For instance, they can’t say, “The president’s refusal to wear a mask in public is an embarrassing failure of leadership and his bad example may be exposing some people to needless risk.” But they can say, vaguely, that there should be no stigma around mask-wearing, as McConnell has. Grassley’s an especially amusing example in the lengths to which he’s willing to go to criticize Trump indirectly by blaming other people for the president’s mistakes:

On Monday, Grassley, 86, talked about the president as if he were incapable of holding a single thought together and said it was Hannity’s fault that Trump sounded so foolish.

“I would blame Fox more than I blame the president, because the president, it’s easy for him to digress here and there, but Hannity — you assume Fox wants him to get reelected. Okay, so he says, What’s your plans for the next four years? So the president starts to answer it, and then digresses a little bit. Hannity should have got him back on the subject,” Grassley told reporters.

It’s not Hannity’s job to keep the president on message. But that would be a fun rhetorical device for other congressional Republicans to use who want to criticize Trump but otherwise lack the stones to do it. E.g., “It’d be nice if Sean Hannity would ask more questions of the president about whether he has a plan to limit this new outbreak of coronavirus or if he plans to just ride this f***ing thing to a congressional wipeout this fall.”

Which some of his aides are worried about, if you believe Axios. Trump finally got a good poll yesterday when Trafalgar, the same outfit that detected his upsets in the midwest four years ago, found him back on top of Biden in Wisconsin by a point. Wisconsin was shaping up to be a little redder this fall a few months ago, but any sort of lead in the Rust Belt for POTUS is good news for him right now. The less good news is that two other polls dropped today confirming that Biden has a huge lead nationally. One, from Pew, captures the deterioration in Trump’s numbers over the past few months:

Biden’s up two with men and up 16 with women, who are poised to hand him the presidency with their lopsided margins in various head-to-head polls. He’s crushing it among college grads and trails by just six points among those with a high-school diploma or less, a group Trump is counting on. This graph speaks for itself and suggests that there may indeed be a few “Always Trumpers” who have drifted a bit since the start of the pandemic:

And this graph confirms what various other polls have showed, namely, that the election is a referendum on the president. Trump voters are voting for Trump, Biden voters are voting against Trump. A referendum is a bad hand for the incumbent to have to play in the middle of a pandemic, economic collapse, and civil unrest:

The other new national poll out today, from Suffolk, has Biden ahead 53/41, up from 50/42 a few months ago. On the specific question of who would do better handling the coronavirus, Biden leads by 24; when asked to rate the candidates on whether they can bring the country together, Trump was -42. The 10-point deficit in Pew and 12-point deficit in Suffolk that he’s seeing head-to-head against Biden is in line with other recent national polling, which averages out to a Biden lead of 9.6 points today at RCP. What does that mean downballot? Nothing good:

Nate Silver noted a few hours ago that Trump’s job disapproval in his own site’s average is now the highest it’s been since December 2017. The good news for the president is that the true Always Trumpers are still with him. By definition, I mean; they’re called “Always Trumpers” for a reason. The bad news is that they’re only 40 percent of the electorate and a lot of “Trumpers of convenience” in 2016 seem to have drifted away. An economic rebound might bring them back, but without that rebound I don’t know what chance he has. Yelling at people that Biden has brain damage won’t work unless Biden gives them a compelling reason to agree, more so than he’s done thus far.

By the way, there *is* one real “Always Trumper” who’s willing to say that Trump needs to start doing something differently. That’d be Jeffrey Lord, who has a piece out today titled “Let Trump Be Trump.” Your exit question comes from Jim Geraghty: Who’s not letting Trump be Trump? The entire problem the president’s having lately is that he’s Trumpier than he’s ever been.