I trust the president will receive this data dispassionately, coolly assessing the arguments for and against proceeding with a new shutdown to try to advance his border agenda.
He’s never struck me as the type of guy to lunge at news just because it tells him what he wants to hear.
And yet, some worry:
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale commissioned a survey taken during the final days of the shutdown which was conducted by respected GOP pollsters Neil Newhouse and Robert Blizzard. The poll, taken in 10 GOP-leaning House districts that Democrats won in the 2018 midterms, found that a plurality of voters blamed Trump for the shutdown. But a plurality of voters also supported his push for a border wall…
While some view internal polls skeptically, this one could embolden Trump to take a hard line in future negotiations over the wall. Trump has a pattern of latching onto polling data that confirm his views, even if they’re contradicted by other numbers…
In the memo, the pollsters write that 61 percent “support the president’s position on border security,” and that “52 percent of voters agree that ‘the current situation at the border between the United States and Mexico represents a national security threat to the US.’”
It’s true, of course. No one cherry-picks polls like POTUS does. Every pollster in the country could peg his job approval at 40 percent but if Rasmussen comes up with 50, that’s the poll that’ll be featured in a Trump tweet. Just this past week he was happily touting the NPR poll that showed his job approval rising 19 points among Hispanics even though that was based on a tiny sample of about 150 people and the rest of the data in that poll was brutal for him. If his aides go in there tonight and tell him that purple districts love the big wall shutdown, we’re going to get more of the big wall shutdown.
Read the memo for yourself, though (it’s only two pages), and as you do, ask yourself this. Does it say that battleground voters support using a shutdown to achieve his goals on immigration or does it merely say that those voters support some of his goals in broad terms? There’s hardly anything about the shutdown in the excerpt posted by Politico. The story mentions that a plurality of voters in the 10 districts actually blamed him for the shutdown despite sharing his views on border security and that his job approval is a tick below 50 percent despite him winning all of these districts three years ago. The closest thing we get to good news related to tactics is the finding that battleground voters thought Dems should have accepted his “BRIDGE Act for wall” offer, 50/43. But that offer was unpopular with many populists on the right who are demanding that he stand firm this time and get the money for the wall. And as noted, Pelosi’s rejection of the offer didn’t stop a plurality from finding Trump culpable for the paralysis in government.
It’s not even all that newsy that there’s support for the wall in principle. Two weeks ago an ABC/WaPo found that support for building it had increased among the public and was at near-parity among registered voters (46/50). Another recent poll found that Democratic voters were more willing to have Pelosi compromise by funding the wall than Republican voters were to have Trump compromise by giving up on it, a result in line with the internal poll’s finding that Democrats should have accepted Trump’s compromise offer. It stands to reason that if, nationally, support for the wall has become a closely run thing and many Democratic voters are open to a deal, there might be majority support for both propositions in Trumpier districts.
All of which is to say that the new internal poll is really more of an argument to Trump to stand firm on demanding the wall without using a shutdown to try to get it. The public, at least in battlegrounds, is open to his idea. They’re receptive to some of his messaging. But tying that messaging to closing the government isn’t helping him. He’s better off giving up on the brinksmanship and drilling down on the issue in public statements, focusing on the open-borders strain within today’s Democratic Party. It’s a good campaign issue potentially in swing districts.
But swing districts aren’t the whole country, of course, and there’s no doubt that the past month really did hurt Trump politically — not so much that he can’t recover, but measurably. Nate Silver went so far as to say today that “If Trump wants to win re-election he should fire anyone who told him that the shutdown helped him.” There’s a reason, after all, that purple-state Republicans who are up in 2020 like Cory Gardner and Susan Collins voted for the Democratic bill last Thursday to re-open government without any wall funding. They know all about centrist battleground districts — they wouldn’t have jobs if they didn’t — and they were fidgety about letting the shutdown continue much longer. If you’re going to take the internal poll as evidence that a new shutdown should begin, take Gardner’s and Collins’s opinions as evidence to the contrary.
I wonder if the biggest danger from the internal poll is that it’ll (further) convince Trump that he doesn’t need to broaden his appeal before 2020. Battleground voters like his immigration ideas, you say? And he’s ever so slightly net positive in job approval at 49/48? Well, then, clearly he’s on the right track to victory next year. All he needs to do is win most purple states by a tenth of a percent or whatever and he gets a second term! He was lucky enough to pull that off once. Following that model as a strategy in 2020 would be bananas.
I’ll leave you with this from the NYT:
Privately, some of Mr. Trump’s 2016 aides have said they are pessimistic about his path to 270 electoral votes after his party’s midterm defeats in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.