July 8, 2017>/b>
Recently I expressed puzzlement at the continuing level of support for Trump. An article by Frank Rich in New York Magazine puts the subject in context by referring to the Watergate scandal. As the news grew worse for Richard Nixon, his approval rating fell steadily until, according to Gallup, it reached the mid-twenties near the end of 1973. It then remained essentially flat until the end. As Rich puts it, "at least a quarter of the American populace had no problem telling pollsters that they were still behind a president who had lied repeatedly and engaged in unambiguously criminal conspiracies. They still saw Nixon as ‘one of us,’ as he billed himself on posters in his first House run in 1946, and as a fighter who took on ‘them’ — essentially the same elites that Trump inveighs against today." Even as he resigned, Nixon had the approval of 24%.
That doesn’t make Trump’s level of support any less mysterious, in the sense of wonder at how so many people could continue to support someone so dishonest and inept, but it does demonstrate that such a reaction is not unprecedented. Rich goes a step further: it to be expected. His core supporters "will no more abandon Trump than their parents and grandparents did Nixon. If anything, Trump’s ascent has once more confirmed that this constituency is a permanent factor in the American political equation."
Another indication that Trump’s support is nothing unusual is that its present level matches the lowest popular vote for Republican presidential candidates in this century. Alf Landon drew 36.5% against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, Goldwater 38.5% against Johnson in 1964, and Bush the Elder 37.5% against Clinton in 1992. (Technically, 1912 was even worse, Taft drawing only 23.2% against Wilson, but Theodore Roosevelt, also a Republican but not on the ticket that year, drew 27.4%). Trump’s approval rating in the Gallup tracking poll has ranged between 36% and 42%, since June 1, an average of 37.9%.
Trump resembles Nixon in being unstable, resentful of media coverage, and prone to self-destructive comments. Nixon was a smart, tough, experienced politician who understood issues and did some good, but went too far in trying to destroy enemies; his comments were intended to be private, but were revealed when his taping system was disclosed. Trump isn’t bright, is basically weak, has no political experience or knowledge about government, seems to have neither the interest nor the attention span to required to perform his duties, and makes his inane, damaging comments intentionally. Nixon was active, aggressive and driven. Trump is detached, reactive, and uninterested in anything but himself. Take away the bluster, and there is little left.