That Donald Trump is one of the most unpopular presidents in American history goes without saying. His personal brand is so tainted that every cause he associates himself with is morally compromised by his endorsement. Some will dismiss this observation as an elite, bourgeois, and purely cosmetic concern. It isn’t. The personal reputation and likeability of any given president have huge effects on policy outcomes. Think of Obamacare. It was a widely and deeply unpopular law. The president who gave his name to it had no right to be reelected by any sound measure of political logic. But Barack Obama’s personal popularity in the country so outstripped the popularity of his signature initiative that he was able to win the election in 2012 in spite of his policies. Because voters liked him, we got the Iran nuclear deal and a whole host of other sordid policy outcomes. It sounds almost stupidly tautological to say this, but in a democratic society, personal popularity has consequences.
Judged on his administration’s policies, Donald Trump should win this election. He’s a fairly run-of-the-mill Republican president who has cut people’s taxes, appointed good judges, and kept us out of any new wars. As my colleague Kevin Williamson has pointed out, his only failures have come in the few areas he’s chosen not to delegate to the brain trust of “Conservatism, Inc.”
If you put his personal antics and character aside, Trump’s record holds up well when set against Biden’s agenda, even in spite of the pandemic. A decent person running on the same record could win back the suburbs and win this election handily. Instead, the administration’s accomplishments have been tainted in the eyes of the suburban electorate simply by having Donald Trump’s name attached to them. Another four years of his presidency would result in even more conservative policy wins being chained to his brand by savvy progressive political operators. This would only make good policies easier to run against for Democrats in 2024 and beyond. Everything that thoughtful and conscientious conservatives believe would be damned as “the politics of Donald Trump” in attack ads. Conversely, a loss for the president tomorrow would liberate the policy aims and accomplishments of Republican representatives, senators, and executive agents from the shackles of Trump’s personality. We would be spared another four years of watching him snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by underselling Republican accomplishments to the public.