President Trump experienced perhaps his worst week when Manafort was found guilty on fraud charges and his former lawyer worked out a plea deal involving campaign finance violations and implicating Trump himself in the process. The sharks were circling in the media and in the Democratic Party. The imminent demise of Trump was given boost, for the Democrats hopefully as soon as November.
But, a funny thing happened along the way. A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll indicated that Trump’s approval rating fell from 46% before the news to only 44% a week later. Even the Democratic pollster involved had to admit that if the Democratic Party was hoping for a silver bullet, they got nothing but fool’s gold. Said the Republican pollster involved: “The results are a testament to the durable loyalty of Mr. Trump’s core supporters, who have throughout his presidency remained largely unmoved by the controversies that have swirled around him. We’ve had this enormous series of events, and these numbers don’t change very much.”
Perhaps it is the durability of Trump’s core supporters, or perhaps many people just don’t give a damn about Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort. The Manafort verdict had absolutely nothing to do with the Trump campaign in the first place. Then again, maybe it was something much deeper.
In 2016, Trump opened up political fault lines and went where other politicians dared tread. At times, it was rude, crass, demeaning and obnoxious, but he was advocating a new direction for the country. Immigration became a central theme with a promise to end illegal immigration and even curtail legal immigration. Trade policies that decimated the manufacturing industry were a target of Trump vitriol. The nation-building zeal of the neoconservatives and their wars of choice were to be a thing of the past. And behind it all were the elites and the armchair conservatives in the media who praised globalism at the expense of American exceptionalism.
To many of the Trump supporters (and even many of the fence sitters) the Mueller investigation, the Manafort convictions and the Cohen plea deal are an example of the elites fighting back. In any case, they have very little to do with Trump himself or his policies.
Ron Bernstein coined the term “coalition of the ascendant.” This was a loose amalgamation of racial minorities, immigrants, Millennials, and highly educated whites living on the coasts. This coalition would eventually overwhelm the white majority. The result would be an era of gun control, globalism, and cultural relativism. Trump interrupted that coalition’s march and opened up an important topic: the definition of America.
The vile comments directed at Trump make some sense in this light. He upset their apple cart and they truly see him as nothing short of evil. He wants to destroy their vision of America. To his supporters, they view him as their last hope of preserving their definition of America- a President who cares more about the worker on an assembly line in Ohio than someone in Iraq yearning for “democracy,” or a President more concerned with American citizens than those trying to enter America. They see the stakes as so high- and they may just be- that they overlook Trump’s moral misgivings. Perhaps, they wished a more palatable person would come along, but no one has and he’s the best one for the job thus far.
The first major battle along the fault line will be the 2018 midterm elections. Although some won’t say it, should the Democrats retake the House, they intend to initiate impeachment proceedings. It matters little that it has no chance of success in the Senate; the process is the punishment. It will be another knot in the noose around his neck.
Just as the Trump constituency is not going away, neither are the issues he opened. In fact, impeachment proceedings would likely only strengthen the resolve on both sides. The two visions of America appear irreconcilable and Trump proved that the coalition of the ascendant were not going to win by default or without a fight. Suppose he is neutered by impeachment and fails to win reelection, should he run, in 2020. Does anyone believe the issues will go away with the man?
Trump was brilliant in crafting an electoral coalition in 2016. Unfortunately, that has not translated into a governing coalition. For as adamant as Trump supporters are, they alone cannot move the pendulum. No matter what happens in 2018 and beyond, expect a lot of deadlock and little resolution any time soon.