This was unexpected.
He’s being questioned here by Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, a group founded in part to fight “intolerance and bias against conservatives in higher education,” as The Hill notes. Kirk is in the traditional Hannity role, leading the witness with his questions to come to the conclusion the right-wing audience wants to hear. “It’s harder than ever to espouse support of your presidency” at American colleges, he begins. “What advice do you have for young patriots and conservatives on campus that support your agenda that are being ridiculed and silenced because of administrators that are clamping down on free speech?”
That’s the alley-oop pass and Trump is alone under the basket. All he has to do is catch it and dunk: “Stand strong, young patriots! Don’t fear the liberal fascists who are forever harassing right-wingers on campus with ‘free-speech zones’ and BS ‘security fees’ for lectures by conservative guests and sometimes outright violence to try to intimidate them into staying away. Have the courage of your convictions. They despise you only because they despise the truth.” You know the answer Kirk wants. Even if Trump didn’t want to go the whole nine yards in alleging persecution of campus conservatives, he could have acknowledged the plain fact of ideological bias that keeps academia more or less devoid of right-wingers at the faculty level.
“I think the numbers are different than people think,” the president responded. “I think we have a lot of support. If they have one campus or two campuses and we know what they are, they get all the publicity.”…
“We have campuses where you have a vast majority of people that are perhaps like many people in the room,” POTUS declared. “You call it conservative, you call it whatever you want, but there are people that want free speech.”
He added, “If you look at what is going on with free speech, the super-left, with Antifa, with all of these characters. They get a lot of publicity. You go to the real campuses and you go all over the country, you go out to the Middle West, go out to the coast in many cases, we have a tremendous support. I’d say we have majority support. It’s highly overblown. Highly overblown.”
It’s a defensible answer! Even when black-bloc scum at Berkeley mobilize to try to shut down a Ben Shapiro, there are many thousands of Berkeley students who have no issue with a conservative coming to campus to speak. (At least, not enough of one to go out and protest.) Most college students may lean left but relatively few are going to join a Middlebury-style mob and wrench a professor’s neck because she made the mistake of inviting Charles Murray to campus. There are entire universities that lean right, like Hillsdale, and many, many more between the coasts where right-leaning students are well represented. “Overblown” is an incomplete answer but not necessarily incorrect.
But it sure as heck wasn’t the answer Kirk was looking for. It’s not the sort of answer you’d hear, ever, from a right-winger on Trump’s favorite network, Fox News. So why this unusual moment of grievance-deflation by him?
I think it’s this: Presented with a scenario that would require him to admit that he’s unpopular somewhere, he couldn’t pull the trigger. To accept the premise of Kirk’s question, that there’s a pernicious bias against right-wingers in broader academia, would require him to admit that he’s a highly disliked figure in some important segment of the American population. He just can’t do it. He said elsewhere today that someone told him to add nine points to any poll of his job approval in order to get the “real” number. He’s said before that even the hated media, which treats him so unfairly, will eventually support him if only in their own self-interest, to keep the ratings coming with another Trump term as president. Asked about being a drag on the party in the midterms, he insisted that *he* was popular but that his own success might not be transferable to congressional candidates.
You cannot ask this guy to concede that a meaningful population of Americans dislikes him, even for the very limited purpose of scoring an easy point on the dastardly campus left. For fark’s sake, he still hasn’t accepted that he lost the popular vote, preferring to believe that millions of illegal immigrants cast fraudulent ballots for Hillary. More than a year into his presidency he remains nominally at odds with all of his intelligence chiefs about whether Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign because he can’t stomach being denied any credit for his glorious victory. The people love him, everywhere. That’s that.