The president and GOP members of Congress are like those friends of yours who have an “on-again-off-again” relationship. You never quite know if they are going strong or have broken up — again. This week the GOP couple was in the “on-again stage," heaping praise on one another for passage of the tax reform bill. For much of the year, however, they've been in the “off-again” phase. We all remember the president personally attacking GOP House and Senate leaders after the failure of Obamacare repeal. Then there were the times when congressional Republicans criticized the president for his response to Charlottesville and his endorsement of Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Will the success in passing tax legislation mark a turning of the page for the relationship between the two branches of GOP-controlled government to one that is more "on" than "off"?
Tucked into the always insightful NBC-Wall Street Journal poll is a question that asks 2016 Trump voters whether their vote was determined more by their support for Trump or their dislike of Clinton and/or her policies. In January of 2017, that split was 58 percent who said they voted for Trump because they liked Trump to 42 percent who voted for him because they disliked Clinton. The challenge for the new president was to find a way to woo those who were skeptical of him as a candidate to see him as one of “their own” once he became president. Think of it like this. You know the feeling you have when you first meet someone and have a bad impression? You think, this is probably not going work. But, the more time you spend with him, the better you start to feel about him. You don’t totally forget what it was you disliked about him (and some things still bug you), but it's not the driving factor in your relationship.
By February, it looked as if those “didn’t have a good first impression Republicans” were starting to feel more willing to see Trump in a different light. The percent of those who said they voted for Trump because they didn’t like Clinton had dropped to 34 percent, with 66 percent saying they voted for Trump because they supported him. But, by April that gap had opened once again, with 44 percent of Trump voters saying their vote for him was due to their dislike of Hillary Clinton. It has remained at about this place throughout Trump’s first year in office.
Moreover, the percent of the overall registered voter universe that says they voted for Trump because they liked him has remained pretty constant (around 20-22 percent), while the percent that says they voted for Trump because they disliked Clinton has risen over the year; from 11 percent in February to 17 percent in December. In many ways, this question – why did you vote for Trump? – is a better way to measure the discontent within the GOP over Trump.
This doesn’t mean that these skeptical Trump voters won’t support him again in 2020. But, they do view the president and the tax cut differently (read: less positively) than those GOP voters who have been on the Trump train all along.
For example, while the pro-Trump and anti-Clinton GOPers both give Trump solid job approval ratings, those in the pro-Trump category give him a 97 percent job approval rating, with 80 percent very strong approval. Among those in the anti-Clinton camp, Trump has an 82 percent job approval rating and just 33 percent strong approval.
The good news for Trump and Republicans is that these “dislike Clinton, voted Trump” voters aren’t moving into the Democratic camp. For example, while only 37 percent of these voters think the tax cut bill is a good idea, just 6 percent think it’s a bad idea. The rest of these voters — 46 percent — are undecided. And, while just 83 percent of these not-Clinton/Trump voters say they want to see a GOP-controlled Congress in 2018, just 7 percent want to see it in Democratic hands. Another 10 percent are undecided. In other words, these GOP voters are ‘gettable’ for Trump and his party. This may be helped by the millions of dollars outside groups are planning to spend to sell the plan. “I assume we'll see some uptick in the next round of polling on it [tax bill],” a Democratic strategist conceded to me the other day. [T]hough most of that will be GOP coalescing behind it now that it's passed. BUT, I don't think they can shift the underlying perception on it and that's the more damaging part. The perception that it enriches the rich at expense of the middle class is baked in and that is their problem... even if the Favs tick up/down some.”
Lots of folks think of Trump’s “base” as those folks who show up to his rallies. However, his base also encompasses those who don’t and won’t come to a rally. A fear of a Clinton presidency may have been enough to get them to vote for Trump in 2016, but will Trump’s erratic temperament and their lackluster support of the GOP’s signature policy achievement in Congress, keep them home in 2018.
Image Credit: Alex Edelman / CNP