Despite all the scandals, Trump's approval ratings are ticking up. Let's talk about that

Teflon Don

Despite all the scandals, Trump's approval ratings are ticking up. Let's talk about that
Photo via Gage Skidmore on Flickr

I've written before about the Trump campaign's, and now the Trump presidency's, stubborn failure to collapse on itself when by all rules of normal political gravity, it should have long ago. Yet here we are, with an administration awash in scandal, and the president's approval rating ticking up regardless.

Not to anything resembling "good," mind you, but, at about 41 percent, according to the data gurus at FiveThirtyEight, far higher than it should be by any objective analysis, given the undeniably mendacious, corrupt clusterfuck the White House has been since Day One.

Of course – as I've also written before – there's a perfect analogy to explain this phenomenon. And it's found, of course, in an episode of The Simpsons in which Mr. Burns goes to the doctor, who tells him, "I am afraid you are the sickest man in the United States. You have everything."

"This sounds like bad news," Mr. Burns says after a moment's pause.

"Well, you'd think so," the doctor tells him. "But all of your diseases are in perfect balance."

"So what you're saying is, I'm indestructible," Mr. Burns concludes.

Trump, like Mr. Burns, has everything: the paranoia of Nixon, the incompetence and brainlessness of George W. Bush, the sexual skeletons of Clinton, the racism of Wilson, the graft of ... well, probably no president of the last century, at least. And yet, because there's so much, it overwhelms the senses. Individual sins that would be weeks-long scandals in any other administration end up being but a blip on the media radar.

There's Stormy Daniels and the Russia investigation, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, Rudy Giuliani and the straight-up lies we now know the president told the American people. There's Scott Pruitt's brash and multifaceted corruption at the EPA, Ben Carson's tragicomically dimwitted plan to end poverty by jacking up housing prices for poor people and Mick Mulvaney's corporate solicitude at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which he has all but dismantled. There's the constant lie-based fearmongering over immigration and refugees. And there's the outrageous revelation this weekend that Trump hired a private investigative agency to dig up personal dirt on two of Obama's deputies who negotiated the Iran deal so that he could discredit it.

All of these things – and more – are scandals that could (would ... should) ruin a normal presidency. And because of that, none of them are. We don't live in normal times.

That's not to say Donald Trump is indestructible. His 41.4 percent approval rating needs to be seen in context. President Obama was still doing a bit better at this point in his administration, though he was dealing with the economic collapse he inherited from Dubya. But Trump is about where presidents Reagan and Carter were in theirs – one of those, you'll recall, went on to re-election and lasting popularity, while the other is best known as a sweet old peanut farmer who builds houses with Habitat for Humanity.

They, however, were dealing with recessions, which tend to be a drag on approval ratings. Trump, on the other hand, inherited a long-growing economy that was just hitting its stride as he took over. As long as that's the case – as long as the unemployment rate is around 4 percent and the economy is adding a couple hundred thousand jobs a month – the bottom is unlikely to fall out.

Trump has about as much to do with this economic expansion as I do. In fairness, presidents tend to get more credit – or blame – for the economy than they deserve, including Obama and Bush and Clinton, but in Trump's case he walked into a pretty good situation and promptly acted like he created it. He did pass tax cuts, which will have a marginally positive effect on the economy in the short term – though nearly all of the benefits are to the very wealthy – while being disastrous in terms of the deficit in the long run.

But Trump sees only what's in front of his face, not what's coming down the road. He sees things in terms of immediate rewards. He tells audiences what they want to hear in order to bask in their applause. He cuts taxes to boost his re-election prospects, deficits be damned. This week, he'll bail on the Iran deal to assuage his base and poke a finger in the eye of his more popular predecessor.

We're being ruled by an id: fatuous, impulsive, bullying, short-sighted.

That lack of foresight, if anything, could be his downfall. Pulling out of the Iran deal is expected to raise gas prices significantly, well past $3 a gallon, wiping out any benefit most families received from the tax cuts and slowing economic growth. People, or at least some people, are willing to look past Trump's cavalcade of screw-ups and corruption so long as things are going OK.

If that's no longer so, all bets are off. As with Mr. Burns, for Trump, even the slightest breeze could dislodge what is now in balance.

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