So how are you doing with the reality of President Donald J. Trump? How you answer that question largely depends on which of three Trump-focused camps you fall into.
The first camp is comprised of the Trumpers. They are his core supporters who love his persona. They accept his flaws with a shrug and either ignore his apparent racism and sexism or convince themselves he is misunderstood by those who portray him as a bigot. Trumpers will never turn on their man. They love his ability to say whatever he wants to say whenever he wants say it. They regard him as an iconoclast, even if they don’t know what that word means.
And, yes, they are often less educated and more anti-intellectual, but they also possess what they call common sense, a bond they share with him. To keep up on current events, they watch Fox News almost exclusively and truly believe they are getting a fair and balanced presentation of what their man is doing from that heavily biased network. They regard most of the traditional media as purveyors of “fake news,” and are distrustful of reports about (if not entirely unaware of) the many scandals that Trump has brought on himself and his administration. They are erroneously convinced that Robert Mueller is a Democrat with a clear bias against the president, and they are fully prepared to reject any report he issues against Trump.
Trumpers will never leave their man. Moreover, they will fight any effort to oust him, even to the point of rebelling against an impeachment or a 2020 election loss, should either of those possibilities occur. Simply stated, Trumpers are rabid in their fealty to their man. And they are a source of potential armed resistance if pushed.
On the other side of the divide are the anti-Trumpers. They hate the man as much as the Trumpers love him. They hate his misogyny, his bigotry, his ignorance, and his narcissism. They regard his presidency as an embarrassment at best and a threat to human survival at worst. Anti-Trumpers long for his impeachment, his resignation, or even his physical incapacity or death if that is what it takes to get him out of office. Failing any of those options they fervently hope to defeat him soundly in 2020, after flipping one or both houses of Congress in 2018.
Anti-Trumpers are mostly, but not entirely, Democrats. They watch CNN or MSNBC for their news and regard what Fox News reports as the real “fake news.” They consider themselves well-educated and view the work of Robert Mueller as entirely appropriate, lawful and necessary. They view the many Trump scandals as evidence of his unfitness for office.
In the middle are the Trump watchers. This group consists of a mix of loyal Republicans, who are pleased by most of his policies, and independents, who just want better lives for themselves and a safer world for their families to live in. Trump watchers fully acknowledge his many flaws, but they prefer not to focus on them. They are irritated by his constant tweets and other “broadcasts” of his boorish attitudes, but are even more annoyed that the media and press emphasize them incessantly.
Trump watchers will decide the elections in ’18 and ’20, and they can go either way when the time comes. Most of them will be primarily influenced by the state of the economy, and, in particular, on how they and theirs are experiencing the state of the economy. If they feel good about their financial circumstances (or view those circumstances as better than they were before Trump took office), they will vote for Trump (even if they have to hold their noses to do so). If they aren’t convinced that their financial outlook is all that great (or don’t perceive it as better than it had been), they will be more inclined to see Trump as a buffoon or worse and will vote against him.
But a few other factors are working in Trump’s favor with Trump watchers, and, to a lesser extent, anti-Trumpers. The first of these is time and its interplay with political inertia. Political inertia refers to the tendency of a voting populace to stick with the known against the unknown. It is what propels incumbents to relatively easy wins, even when their records in the offices they hold suggest they should be booted out. And time is an ally of political inertia in that the longer the status quo exists, the more it seems “right” or, at least, normal.
And, with respect to Trump, the acceptance of normal is slowly working to his advantage. No longer are the constant bombardment of offensive tweets or the bigoted “on both sides” kinds of remarks likely to engender lowered poll numbers. Instead, voters are accepting the man for what he is and are tolerating (or at least are less reactive to) his intellectual and moral insults. Recognition of a new normal, even a disfavored new normal, makes palatable what was previously unacceptable.
Another factor working in Trump’s favor is the blind squirrel analogy. The blind squirrel idiom (even one who is blind can happen upon an acorn once in a while) can certainly work to Trump’s advantage, and it probably already has. Trump spouts all kinds of nonsensical stuff, usually in his early-morning tweets, and most of it is ridiculous and laughable. But occasionally, he might say something that sounds sensible, almost as if he is seriously studying a subject (maybe even listening to a briefing for more than 30 seconds). And when he does, as he did, briefly, in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last month, he can seem presidential, if not likeable.
Americans want their presidents to appear presidential. Ever so occasionally, Trump does. The more often he does, the less reprehensible he is perceived to be.
And, finally, there is the luck factor. Many presidencies are aided or defeated by luck. Ronald Reagan’s presidency was aided by the emergence of a sane, rational leader of the Soviet Union (Mikhail Gorbachev), who saw the value of détente and pursued it with a man who was otherwise predisposed to confrontation. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was largely defeated by the Iranian revolution, over which he had no real control, especially when U.S. citizens were made hostages in the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Trump may have gotten lucky with the North Korean crisis. It remains to be seen how the offer of a face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un will play out. Indeed, it may never materialize. But Trump might come out of whatever transpires looking suddenly like a visionary, or, at least, like a sane, rational, man of peace. Any result that even hints at that view of him would likely swing many Trump watchers and calm the venomous hostility of anti-Trumpers.
Of course, all of the foregoing could be for naught if Mueller brings impeachment charges against the president. At that point, the battle lines will be drawn, and the nation will be facing the kind of constitutional crisis that resulted in the only presidential resignation in American history.
And, if it comes to that, we will do well to remember that even though Richard Nixon was a good deal more palatable to a sizeable portion of the American electorate than Donald Trump, he was also far less loved by a sizeable minority of that electorate.