President Donald Trump is divisive; politically, he is fairly unpopular, but he commands a sizable base of support. As of Monday morning, the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight had his aggregate approval rating at 36.9 percent. That’s low, but not disastrously so. His disapproval rating, however, is quite high: 57.2 percent.
This is abnormal for a presidency still in its first year, but it’s not unfathomable. Neither is it irreversible. Trump will never be broadly popular, but he can reclaim the voters who have left him since the election last November. His aggregate approval rating was north of 45 percent near Inauguration Day. Trump can yet rise to 45 percent again, a total that would further his chances of successful re-election and advancement of his legislative agenda — or at least parts of it.
Some may balk at Trump’s incendiary statements on the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally of white supremacists, in which the president said there was blame on “many sides” for the violence that erupted. Some may decry his pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who illegally discriminated against Latinos and was charged for criminal contempt. Still more may take issue with his decision to ban transgender military recruitment, a reversal of Obama-era policy.
However, all of the issues above — just the most recent slate of controversial acts — are in keeping with Trump’s standing as a culture warrior of the right. This tactic allows Trump to maintain control of his base, those who, attuned to political correctness’ cresting wave, supported the demagogue out of a sense of cultural anxiety and a desire to forestall further change.
Don’t expect the president’s approval rating to drop below 30 percent for these misdeeds, alone. It would take much more to dissuade the core. In fact, these acts are more than just irrelevant to the fervor of his base support — they explain it.
If the plan is to shore up pre-existing backing, make no mistake: Trump knows what he’s doing.