Even as the nation comes to grips with a disturbing and deadly Nazi and white supremacist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, the political ramifications are unavoidable. At a time when Donald Trump has already lost around ten points from his approval rating since taking office, and his presidency is on life support, this attack represents the worst case scenario for where Trump’s approval rating goes next.
Since Trump took office, some in the anti-Trump crowd have clung to a pessimistic myth that Donald Trump’s supporters won’t abandon him under any circumstances. But this is easily disproven by the fact that Trump’s average approval rating was in the mid forties when he took office, and it’s in the mid thirties now. It’s mathematically clear that Trump can, and has, lost supporters. The key questions are where he’s been losing them from, and what scenarios are most likely to cause him to continue losing support.
My math has long said that Trump’s core base is in the 15% range, although FiveThirtyEight pegs it as being closer to 20%. The remainder of Trump’s approval rating is made up of non-core supporters who have never been enthusiastically aligned with him. Up to now, the evidence has suggested that the roughly ten points Trump has lost has all been from that secondary, non-core group. And he’s probably been losing them due to the general incompetence and immaturity he’s displayed in office. But Charlottesville is new territory.
Trump was forced to, belatedly and generically and timidly, speak out against his own base today when he denounced the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. This caused former KKK leader David Duke to mildly speak out against him. If Duke’s sentiment is indicative of Trump’s core base, then his reaction to Charlottesville could finally cost him a fraction of his core base.
And if Donald Trump’s secondary supporters outside his base conclude that his tepid reaction was incompetent or ineffective or showed a lack of leadership, then he could lose even more of them than he’s already lost. So in strictly political terms, this sets up Charlottesville as the rare perfect storm which could end up costing Trump with both his core base and his casual support. Even if he only loses a small fraction from each, he’s already so deep in the hole that he has precious little ground to cede. If he drops into the twenties, the Republican Congress will panic and consider ousting him.
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Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report