In what way can his presidency be called illegitimate? Are these people popular-vote dead-enders? Is this a “the election was rigged” fantasy? I don’t get it.
Gallup notes that the overall number who say that his win is legitimate is nearly identical to the 83 percent who said so in 2000 about Bush’s victory — which is amazing considering that Bush finished with fewer electoral votes than Trump did and needed a month-long court battle that ended with a hotly disputed Supreme Court decision to get his win. I remember the “selected, not elected” chants vividly. (So does Hillary Clinton.) How to explain that?
What you’re probably seeing in this number is a reflection of the fact that more people view Trump as unfit for office than saw Bush that way, and that sense of unfitness is informing their sense of “legitimacy.” Which is dumb, but whatever. Remember, even in the key states that handed him the presidency, decisive majorities said Trump was unqualified and lacking the correct temperament. Beyond that, Bush was actually favored to win in 2000 before the last-minute oppo dump about his old DWI arrest, which scrambled the picture. He was ahead by three points in the final ABC/WaPo tracking poll. He ended up second in the popular vote, but the fact that he won the electoral college confirmed pre-oppo expectations. Trump winning, and winning in states that were supposed to be off the map for Republicans, completely exploded people’s expectations by contrast, including those of most Trump fans. Some of the “legitimacy” skepticism by Clintonites is probably just residual shock over the outcome.
And on top of all of that is the Comey factor, which probably didn’t matter but may have been just damaging enough in reminding voters of what they hate about Clinton to make the difference in key states. The margins were so tight in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that shifting just one Trump voter in a hundred to Hillary in those states would have flipped the entire election. Could Comey’s announcement about reopening the email investigation have moved one percent of Clinton voters in the Rust Belt (and Florida) into Trump’s column? Like Nate Silver says, you could make the case. Maybe some Democrats, viewing the Comey news as dirty pool and as decisive, have concluded that that adds up to illegitimacy. Beats admitting that Hillary was a garbage candidate who had no message besides “Trump is bad,” no?
The racial and gender gaps on Trump’s legitimacy, as measured by ABC/WaPo, are worth noting:
A clear majority of Hillary’s nonwhite voters think Trump’s victory was illegitimate versus less than 20 percent of white Clintonites who agree. I’m going to guess that’s a direct result of varying racial sensitivity to voter-ID laws and other Republican measures attacked by civil-rights groups as “voter suppression” efforts. As for why the share of women is twice the share of men, I assume that’s a function of Trump’s endless baggage over sexism from the campaign. The “Access Hollywood” tape plus the sexual-assault accusations plus the endless attack ads aimed at things he’s said about women over the years plus the fact that he just thwarted the would-be first woman president adds up to “illegitimacy.” Again, to some, it’s a byword for unfitness.
On the subject of legitimacy, take two minutes and go watch #NeverTrumper Glenn Beck explain his approach to Trump’s presidency going forward. It’s time for a clean slate, he says, in the interest of a successful presidency — but how clean the slate remains depends on what Trump does. “If your principles are at stake, we do not budge,” Beck declares. “I will stand with Donald Trump as long as I can. I’ll stand with him until he starts to say crazy, divisive things and suggest policies that are not conservative or constitutional.” David French, another #NeverTrumper who nearly jumped into the race earlier this year, made the same point:
First, we can’t give an inch on our commitment to integrity and character in American leadership. Just as there was pressure to circle the wagons around a scandal-tarred Trump in the general election, there will be pressure to do so with each new scandal in the Trump administration. It’s imperative that conservatives continue to resist the Clintonization of the GOP. Short-term political victory isn’t worth the long-term electoral and cultural costs currently in full view on the other side of the aisle.
That’s right, but realistically the measure of a good Republican going forward will be how loyal he or she is to Trump absent really egregious scandal or really egregious departures from right-wing orthodoxy. (Trump should propose single-payer health care at some point just to see how different factions of the right react. It’s not far-fetched!) That’s contemptible, especially among activists who used to kill each other over the smallest deviations from conservative orthodoxy before Trump got into politics 16 months ago, but if you’re not fighting for Team Red then you’re fighting against Team Red, or however that song goes. Jim Treacher, yet another #NeverTrumper, tried to reason with his critics about it:
I’ve spent the past 8 years resisting Obama’s cult of personality. I’ve refused to succumb to their groupthink. If you expect me to give in now because it’s the other party’s groupthink, you don’t know me very well…
When I agree with President Trump, I’ll say so. When I don’t, I won’t pretend otherwise.
When his opponents make a fair point, I’ll concede it. When they throw temper tantrums, I’ll mock them for it. When they lie, I’ll call them on it.
Same deal as always. If you haven’t had a problem with it for the past decade, why would you have a problem with it now?
That’s what Trump is owed. When he does right or wrong he should be encouraged or criticized accordingly, however much you might dislike him or however much Team Red might dislike you. But then, that was always true: I remember writing early on last year, not long after he got into the race, that he was correct to have Jorge Ramos removed from a press conference after Ramos went into activist mode and started interrupting him and other reporters. I was #NeverTrump even then, but when the guy’s right, he’s right. If he repeals ObamaCare and makes smart staffing decisions that please his fans and his critics, he’ll be right again in a big way. As for the “clean slate” that Beck mentions, that’s a generous impulse but it’s merely aspirational. Asking someone to ignore the things they dislike about Trump is like asking a juror to disregard something sensational that was said on the witness stand. You can try, but you know what you heard. Besides, Trump has been impressively clear that he believes (a) his slate doesn’t need cleaning and (b) he doesn’t necessarily need the support of someone who thinks it does. But as Beck says, whatever you think of the man, you should hope that he, and therefore the country, succeeds. I hope so.