Trump’s unpopularity

Nice take from Seth Masket:

Zaller [reviewing evidence around Clinton and Lewinsky] concludes that “The public is, within broad limits, functionally indifferent to presidential character.” Though Republicans seemed convinced that mounting evidence against Clinton’s character would  generate a massive political backlash against him, their efforts to remove him from office found little public support. In fact, Clinton remains one of the only presidents to leave office more popular than when he entered.

Can the lesson from the Clinton years also be applied to Trump? The economy under Trump bears some similarity to what it was late in Clinton’s term, with unemployment under 4 percent and consumer sentiment near historic peaks. As Ezra Klein noted a few months ago, Trump is far less popular than he should be given the conditions of the economy.

How much less popular? Monkey Cage editor-in-chief John Sides offered an interesting take on this, noting that. from the 1960s through the 2000s, there was a pretty strong correlation between economic performance and presidential popularity. Judging from this, Trump is around 20 points less popular than he should be…

So this leaves us with two divergent conclusions about Trump’s mysteriously low approval ratings.

  • First, Trump’s own behavior—the tweeting, the bigotry, the insults, etc.—is suppressing his approval ratings. Yes, Clinton showed us that voters are indifferent to presidential character, but as Zaller reminded us, this indifference was “within broad limits.” It’s possible that Trump’s daily assaults on presidential norms lie outside those limits.
  • The second option is that, thanks to party polarization, presidential approval is now unaffected by economic performance.

To me, the first explanation seems more plausible. The results of the 2016 election strongly suggested that the economy still plays a strong role in people’s political evaluations. And it’s not like the nation wasn’t polarized during George W. Bush‘s presidency, which did suffer politically when the economy soured.

This all suggests Trump’s own behavior is costing him and his party dearly…

If Trump were, as the Monkey Cage’s Sides suggested, 20 points more popular, Republicans could expect to lose 23 fewer seats in the House of Representatives. That could easily spell the difference between continued Republican control and a Democratic takeover.

Of course, when one pays attention at all it seems kind of insane that around 40% of the public still supports Trump, but as depressing as that figure is (honestly, if any person ever deserved single-digit approval…) it really does show that Trump is not teflon and is very much sucsceptible to political reality.  He may only drop down to 30% if he shoots someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue, but those numbers are really bad for a president and really bad for his party.

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Supreme Court vs. America?

Leaving aside Kavanaugh uncertainty for the moment, this Brownstein take is spot-on:

If the Senate confirms Kavanaugh, which still appears likely despite sharpening Democratic questions about his honesty, he will cement a five-member majority of Republican-appointed justices. Given their ages, those five justices could control the Supreme Court for the next 15 years or more. Over that period, demographers project, the nation inexorably will grow more diverse in virtually every measurable way, from religious preference to sexual orientation and racial and ethnic composition.
That looks like a surefire formula for heightening conflict. Each of the Republican-appointed justices has demonstrated resistance to measures designed to protect or promote the interests of groups that often have been marginalized in American history, from racial minorities to gays and lesbians. And like a tightening tourniquet, the tension is likely to grow between the opposition of the Republican-appointed justices to laws that they feel unduly disadvantage whites and religiously devout Christians, and the calls from those growing minority groups for greater opportunity and inclusion…

But each also pointedly questioned Kavanaugh over his views on a range of questions relating to race, gender and sexual orientation, from affirmative action in employment and higher education to workplace protections for gays and lesbians. In the process, they underscored all the issues that could grow more volatile as the distance widens between a Republican-majority court and a Democratic coalition increasingly centered on the nation’s growing diversity…
The oldest of the five Republican-appointed justices are Clarence Thomas, 70, and Samuel Alito, 68. With justices now often remaining on the court into advanced age (Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and Kennedy retired just before he turned 82), each man could conceivably serve until around 2035. At that point, Chief Justice John Roberts would be 80, while Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s other appointee, would be 68 and Kavanaugh would be 70. All five are men; all but Thomas is white. All are Christian and are or were raised Catholic.
“If this coalition is as far to the right as expected and lasts for that length of time … then we should have something quite unique,” Adam Feldman, the founder of the Empirical SCOTUS blog, which studies Supreme Court trends, wrote in an email.
Over the many years that same majority could control the court, demographers project the nation will profoundly change around them. The Census Bureau forecasts that the white share of America’s population will steadily decline from about 60 percent now to 54% in 2035, en route to falling below 50 percent in 2045, for the first time in US history. The change will be especially rapid among the young: the Census Bureau projects that the white share will fall below 50% for the under-18 population as soon as 2020, and for the 18-to-34 population shortly before 2030.
Much greater religious diversity is approaching as well. White Christians represented a majority of the population for most of American history, but they have fallen to only about 2-in-5 today…
These exchanges map the terrain of the likely conflicts ahead. If confirmed, Kavanaugh will lock in a Supreme Court majority chosen by Republicans elected primarily by the groups that have long dominated American society but are now shrinking: whites and Christians. That court majority looms as a possible seawall against a rising tide of demands for inclusion among the minority groups growing in size. Even last week’s Judiciary Committee skirmishing may seem muted as those waves crash against the court for many years to come. [emphasis mine]
And, that’s even leaving aside that these several of these Justices will have been appointed by popular-vote losers of the presidential election and confirmed by Senators representing much less than half the American people.
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