This would be noteworthy from any pollster but especially so coming from Quinnipiac, which consistently produces some of the most brutal numbers for Trump and the GOP of anyone out there. They have him at 38/54 on job approval today, at 30/65 on whether he’s “level-headed,” at 33/60 on whether he shares voters’ values, at 41/55 on whether he’s fit to serve as president. Blood spatter everywhere.
Ask people whether they like seeing the president shanked in the back in the pages of the paper of record by an anonymous staffer who hates him, though, and even the Quinnipiac sample feels a twinge of sympathy.
Democrats are more ambivalent about it than you might expect given the partisan interests at stake. Team Blue reliably stampedes towards the most negative option on questions about Trump (e.g., they split 11/80 on whether POTUS is mentally stable), leading one to guess that they’d be all aboard an attempt by one his own deputies to blow him up in the Times. Instead you have more than a quarter blanching at the anonymous backbiting and a clear majority of indies against the idea. Too bad Quinnipiac didn’t follow up by asking whether it’s prudential concerns that are driving that reaction or gut-level disgust. A Democrat or an independent might oppose the op-ed, for instance, because they believe it’ll backfire on its intended aims, encouraging Trump to fill future vacancies with only the most devout toadies whether well qualified or not. But they also might oppose it just because it’s dirty pool. A president deserves a team that’ll help him carry out his vision.
Anti-Trump Republicans have an additional reason to dislike it, per Rich Lowry:
It has been widely discussed how counter-productive the anonymous op-ed was on its own terms, since few things could be better calculated to bring out Trump’s worst instincts. It also surely hurt what must be the author’s own agenda of stamping out Trumpism in the GOP. It’s not helpful to that cause to have portrayed one expression of the internal party opposition to Trump as a cabal that is self-servingly disloyal and to brand it as the resistance, with its inevitable association with the left-wing hysteria about Trump.
Right. If you thought a NeverTrumper would have a tough time mounting a 2020 primary challenge to POTUS before, imagine a Jeff Flake or Ben Sasse having to explain away the NYT op-ed on the campaign trail. No matter how many times they denounce the author’s M.O., the fact that they share his/her conclusions about Trump means they’ll be held partly responsible by association.
One of the most alarming things about the op-ed was how it conflated attempts to thwart Trump from doing truly off-the-wall things (military action in Venezuela?) with attempts to thwart him from doing things that upset GOP orthodoxy but which have plenty of popular support. Ross Douthat:
Issues like free trade and foreign policy, where the anonymous op-ed writer vehemently disagrees with the president, “were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign,” National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty pointed out, and “this adviser’s side arguably lost the popular debate.” When such a debate is fought and lost, The Federalist’s Ben Domenech wrote, the losers “should want the voters to reap the benefits of their bad (from their perspective) decisions: oh, so you want a trade war? Let’s do that then, and you’ll pay the price.”
To choose internal subversion instead, Damon Linker complained in The Week, is to basically decide that if a conservative president is “an ideological heretic,” a non-Reaganite, he doesn’t get to govern on the agenda he put before the voters — which makes True Conservative ideological correctness “more important than honoring the outcome of a democratic election.”
Is it Trump who’s being undermined by the op-ed author or is it American voters? Quinnipiac asked a question about that too, although not a well-phrased one:
Americans don’t like the op-ed but they do like the idea of aides stopping Trump from making “bad decisions.” (More than a quarter of Republicans agree, in fact.) Now, define “bad decisions.” That’s Douthat’s point: There’s a difference between James Mattis limiting Trump’s options on Syria to exclude assassinating Assad and Gary Cohn stealing tariff orders off of Trump’s desk because free-traders hate tariffs.
The most amazing thing about the op-ed with a few days’ hindsight is how bad it is for everyone. Bad for Trump, bad for his cabinet as they try to keep the country on track, bad for Republicans who might want to challenge him. There’s only one person whom it’s good for. Guess who.
Update: As luck would have it, CNN conducted its own poll about the NYT op-ed this weekend. They asked a version of the “bad decisions” question too — but CNN’s phrasing was much stronger, presenting it as a case of Trump staffers “working against the agenda of the president.” The numbers here are … different:
Again, this is the distinction identified by Douthat. Rash decisions are different from “defensible decisions with which I disagree on policy grounds.” The more you frame the matter as deputies undermining Trump’s policy agenda, the less willing voters are to endorse it. And they really don’t like it being done anonymously: By a clip of 58/30, the public thinks the author of the op-ed should identify himself or herself.