Here’s a little more about my relative optimism over how America is doing in the Trump era. This chart, which doesn’t get nearly enough attention, shows the change in first-year presidential approval ratings from copartisans. That is, it shows Democratic approval of Democrats and Republican approval of Republicans:
After an admittedly wild first year in which he disappointed liberals with his budget, gays in the military, and a missile attack on Iraq, Bill Clinton ended 1993 exactly where he started. George Bush got a huge bump across the board after 9/11, but even if you look at his approval rating through 9/10, he only lost about one percent of his support. In 2009, during a brutal recession, Obama lost three percent of his support by the end of the year.
Donald Trump has lost eight percent of his support among Republicans. During a strong economy.
I know these seem like small numbers, but they’re meaningful. It’s natural that presidents lose support among independents and members of the opposing party. Many of them want to “give the new president a chance,” and then slip away as politics takes its natural course. But polarization being what it is, recent presidents just don’t lose much support among their own party. Only in Trump’s case has there been any significant erosion.
Losing the support of people who probably didn’t vote for you in the first place doesn’t mean too much. But losing the support of people who did vote for you means electoral disaster. It’s also good news: Americans aren’t reacting to the norm-busting buffoonery of the Trump presidency with indifference. Not only is the opposition movement enormously energized, but even Republicans are losing faith in him.
The 9/11 attacks rescued George Bush. Something similar could still happen with Trump, so this is hardly a call to breathe a sigh of relief. The fight is everything. But keep in mind that the fight is working. This is why I think, in the end, Trump will end up being a weird outlier in American history, not a harbinger of things to come.