From the very start of Donald Trump’s illegitimate tenure in the White House, I’ve spent every day being asked when he’ll be gone from office. My answer has always been the same: when his approval rating drops into the twenties. That’s when a president becomes so nonviable that even his allies will throw him under the bus in order to save themselves. Today we finally turned a corner in the marathon effort to take Trump down, thanks not only to Trump’s own mouth, but how the media chose to cover it.
By now you’ve surely heard that Donald Trump said on Thursday that he doesn’t want immigrants coming into the United States from places like Haiti or African countries because they’re “shithole countries.” He said he’d rather have immigrants coming from places like Norway. Everyone knows precisely what he meant: he wants more white people in America and fewer non-white people in America. This is jarringly racist, and yet I’m not sure it’s any more racist than when he accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists, and called for all Muslims to be banned from entering the country. However, there was one profound difference about today: the media.
Back when Trump was making blatantly racist statements on a daily basis, the mainstream media largely refused to admit that his words and policies were racist. They certainly tried to avoid using the word “racist” while characterizing it. Perhaps they were too afraid of offending those who agreed with Trump. Perhaps they just didn’t want to finish off their golden ratings goose too quickly, and they figured he would lose in the end anyway. But even after Trump took office, the media still largely tried to avoid using the “r” word. You’d have to ask them why.
Today, however, was an entirely different story. Major news outlets promptly decried Trump’s “shithole” comments as “racist” and a “slur.” CNN said it. MSNBC said it. Newspapers said it. This kind of framing matters. Yes, Donald Trump’s racist base loves it when he says racist things. But that base is only 15% to 20% of the country. Polling and analysis numbers have long borne that out. Trump has a 32% approval rating, which means he also has supporters outside of his base. He used to have a 42% approval rating when he first took office, which proves that he can lose these non-base supporters, and he’s already lost millions of them.
Trump’s non-base supporters are the suburban white people who were big enough suckers to fall for his empty promises and lies. They’re the type who want to pretend that racism doesn’t exist. They’ve ignored Trump’s various racist remarks, because it’s been easier for them to just pretend it didn’t happen. That self-delusion has been emboldened by the fact that when Trump says racist things, the media has largely refused to call them “racist.” This time around it’s different.
Again, this is not about Trump’s racist base and whatever they’re hearing on Fox News tonight. Trump’s base alone has never been close to large enough to keep him politically viable. As we speak, Trump’s non-base supporters are sitting around watching CNN or NBC Nightly News, and they’re hearing respected talking heads on their television finally telling them that Trump is a “racist” after all. This is how his approval rating falls further, as he loses even more of his non-base supporters.
Forget about Donald Trump’s base. They’ve never had any relevance to whether Trump sinks or swims, whether he understands that or not. Trump’s words today, and far more importantly the manner in which the mainstream covered his words, will cause his approval rating to drop. This will finally help nudge him from the low thirties closer to the twenties. I’ll say it for the hundredth time, because it’s the most important aspect of any of this: Trump’s racist base is not large enough to keep him afloat. Trump cost himself non-base supporters today. For that reason, the marathon to take him down just turned a major corner.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report