COMMENTARY

Let's get ready to MAGA rally: As Trump's approval rating sinks, his need for cheerleading grows

Trump clearly believes his main job is to hold court with his faithful followers — even if it ends up killing them

By Heather Digby Parton
Published June 10, 2020 9:15AM (EDT)
US President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives to a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives to a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

If you are one of the many millions of people who don't pay attention to the president's Twitter feed, you might not know that he is having a very rough time right now. His whining and complaining has exceeded the level of bragging and gloating by at least two to one, and he is clearly spending much of his time watching the right wing propaganda outfit OANN and scrolling through the fringiest followers' feeds and retweeting the most absurd conspiracy theories and crude insults. If the eyes are the window to the soul, Trump's Twitter habits are the window to his id.

He's right to be nervous. Things are not going well. This week showed some very substantial erosion in his polling numbers. According to Nate Silver at 538, his approval rating is sinking among registered or likely voters — 54.9% disapprove of his performance now, compared to 50.3% on April 1.  And the head to head match-up with Biden now has him at least ten points behind, as Nate Cohn reports for the New York Times:

This week's CNN poll shows him with just a 38% approval rating, and trailing Biden by 14 points.

State polling isn't looking good either. According to Cohn's report, Trump's drop in approval among non-college educated white voters and senior citizens puts states like Iowa and Ohio potentially in play. And while men seem to be sticking with him in the same numbers he got against Clinton, his "woman problem" across the board is getting worse. "He trails Mr. Biden by 25 points among them," Cohn writes, "far worse than his 14-point deficit four years ago."

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair reports that Trump is, in the words of one former adviser, "malignantly crazy about the bad poll numbers" and is threatening to "broom" his son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Brad Parscale. Trump's reportedly so distraught about the poll numbers he's calling up his friends in New York and "asking people to agree with him that the polls are biased," according to a source of Sherman's. "But no one is telling him what he wants to hear."

So he hired famously wrong pollster to put out an embarrassing statement suggesting just that, even saying that all the polling outfits were trying to "dampen the enthusiasm of Trump voters." (None of his supposed "analysis" is correct.)

Trump's also getting the 2016 campaign band back together, perhaps in an effort to make himself feel better. Seemingly, the only alumnus who isn't coming back on board is Paul Manafort, who remains under house arrest after being released from prison due to coronavirus fears, although presumably he's still available by phone. And Roger Stone would certainly be happy do whatever he can, especially since his old boss tweeted that Stone can "sleep well at night" in answer to one of his follower's suggestions that he give a full pardon to his old friend.

But Trump appears to be so in the dumps about all of this that his team wanted to do a little something to buck him up — as well as show him that they are hard at work touting his alleged accomplishments — so they bought $400,000 worth of ads on all the cable networks just for the D.C. area, knowing that he obsessively watches news and would see them. What's nearly a half a million dollars to make the boss feel better?

The problem, of course, is that Trump's numbers aren't a result of bad "messaging" or collusion by pollsters. The problem is that the trifecta of the pandemic, economic collapse and national social upheaval are challenges he is completely unable to meet. It is simply beyond his ability and skill to handle a real crisis, and his character and personality will not allow him to delegate or even accept advice from people who do know what to do. For the first time in his presidency, Trump is facing problems that aren't purely political problems of his own making. These crises require him to actually be the president, not just play one on TV.

For him, the presidency is defined as a public relations job which he believes he accomplishes with the pageantry of foreign trips, and television appearances of him sitting at the resolute desk in the Oval Office surrounded by various supplicants and sycophants as he throws insults at the press. Sometimes he will hold a similar set-piece at a conference table or with a visiting dignitary, also featuring insults hurled at the press.

And, of course, there's "chopper talk," in which he stops on the way to board Marine One before heading to some event or one of his resort properties, and the press screams questions nobody can hear while Trump yells back answers.

But what he truly believes is his real job — and the one which he believes he does with great skill and finesse — is to rally his faithful followers. And ever since the pandemic hit, he's been denied the forum that allows him to show off his true presidential chops, which in his mind almost certainly accounts for the drop in his popularity.

For a while there were the daily coronavirus briefings (where again, yes, he insulted the press) which he believed made up for his canceled rallies, often citing the great TV ratings they were getting, as if that was a measure of approval for his performance. But in reality, those briefings so starkly illustrated his ignorance and incompetence in the middle of a catastrophic health crisis that they likely started the downward slide in his approval ratings, which has only picked up speed with his stunningly off-key response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

Streets overflowing with protesters have given Trump the excuse he has been looking for to restart his campaign rallies. It was announced on Tuesday that they may begin again as early as next week. Some people suggested they could be held outdoors and that masks could be handed out to the attendees, but Trump has made it clear that he wants "real rallies," and we all know that he doesn't like the look of masks, and neither do his followers. So, I would expect that unlike the protests, where exposure may be mitigated by the fact they are outdoors and most are wearing masks (as well as the relative youth of the participants), Trump's new rallies with his older fans, yelling and screaming in close quarters, may be a lot riskier for the spread of coronavirus.

He does not care. After Trump had a temper tantrum over the North Carolina government's insistence that they simply could not guarantee that the RNC Convention scheduled for August would not require social distancing, the RNC has decided that while the business of the convention would still be in Charlotte, Trump will "accept the party's nomination during a celebration in another city." He simply has to have his big night with all his worshipful supporters — even if it kills them. 


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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