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Op-ed

Donald Trump keeps proving that he is impervious to the normal forces of politics

The president appears to be immune to the attacks

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Perhaps never in the history of this great republic has a president's standing with his voters been more immune to news — whether good or bad — than Donald J. Trump.

We knew this instinctively about Trump when he managed to win the election a few short weeks after the infamous "Access Hollywood" tapes were released. Who else in history could have won such a hotly contested election so soon after the "grab them by the p***y" comments dominated the news cycle?

But since Trump's election, the point has been even more amazingly driven home. Let's look at it graphically, courtesy of the RealClearPolitics average of Trump's approval ratings in the polls.

Here's what the chart looks like for all of Trump's presidency:

Image source: RealClearPolitics screenshot

That LOOKS like a pretty decent amount of movement, until you actually look at the Y-axis of the graph and realize that the whole chart only covers the range from 38-58.

Let's compare, for example, the chart for Obama's approval rating:

Image source: RealClearPolitics screenshot

And George W. Bush's:

Image source: RealClearPolitics screenshot

Trump's approval rating looks, visually, much flatter and less dynamic than Obama's and Bush's, and that's before you even take into account that the Y-axis for Obama's approval rating covers a range that more than twice that of Trump's, and Bush's covers a range that is almost three times that of Trump's. In other words, if you plotted Trump's approval ratings alongside either Obama or Bush, it would look even more like two almost completely straight lines than it does right now.

But if you want to be even more amazed, look at Trump's approval since the end of March 2018. That's roughly 18 months of polling data.

Image source: RealClearPolitics screenshot

This is a truly astounding chart. For over 500 consecutive days, Trump's approval rating has been between 41-45 points, and his disapproval rating has been between 51-55 points.

This is not a thing that happens during dull news times; and the last 18 months have been anything but dull. Let's review what all has happened in the last 18 months:

  • The stock market hit record highs on multiple occasions, and also had several single day crashes;
  • The Robert Mueller investigation dragged on, dominating the news for months, and concluded;
  • Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, was convicted of multiple counts of fraud;
  • Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to federal charges, and in his allocution said that he used Trump campaign funds to pay off a porn star with whom Trump had an affair;
  • Multiple mass murders (and Trump's response to them) dominated news cycles for days;
  • Job reports showed, at varying times, record low unemployment and also weaker-than-expected job growth;
  • Trump engaged in a public trade war with China and other countries;
  • Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was approved in one of the most contentious confirmation battles in history;
  • Republicans lost 41 seats in the House and gained 2 in the Senate in the 2018 midterm elections;
  • The United States appeared to approach the brink of war with Iran, then stepped back;
  • The immigration crisis reached fever pitch in 2019, with competing images of communities ravaged by the effects of the massive wave of Central American migrants, and the media-fed images of "children in cages"; and
  • Democrats started an impeachment inquiry.
And the list could go on. In fact, I'm sure I'm omitting dozens of major stories. The point is, this hasn't been a dull 18 months. It feels like more has happened in the last 18 months than happened during the entirety of George W. Bush's second term. There are stories in here that, for any other president would have represented fairly predictable changes (both positive and negative) in their approval ratings. But Trump's has remained almost stunningly consistent.
What little changes there have been are almost certainly statistical noise and not reflective of any real change in sentiment about Trump whatsoever — no matter what the news of the day has been.

This is where it gets interesting for Democrats. For better or worse, I have many friends who are left-leaning pundits or Democratic political consultants. To a person, they are all convinced that Trump is doomed. They uniformly believe that the next Democratic nominee is the real contest for who will be the next president.

The reason for this is pretty simple: Within the bubble of people they spend most of their time in and around, hatred for Trump grows stronger every day. This allows them to deceive themselves into believing that the whole country has turned on Trump and that America would vote for a literal turd sandwich over him in the general election.

Meanwhile, the numbers seem to suggest that he is neither less well liked nor more disliked than he was pretty much on his inauguration day. Which, given the way the election shook out in 2016, would seem to suggest that no, the Democrats cannot run literally anyone and expect to beat Trump handily.

And they would further suggest that almost no matter what happens between now and next November, the collection of people who hate Trump and love Trump will be roughly the same. Trump, quite simply, is immune to their attacks. He is also, apparently, immune to receiving bumps from good news, but since he already won with his current level of support, that is much less distressing to Team Trump than the converse should be to Team Democrats.

The American public, for better or worse, appears to have already made up their minds about Trump, whether good or bad. Nothing that is likely to happen in the next year will change that. If Democrats want to win, they have to nominate someone who the American people believe will present a realistic, better alternative — if one in their field even exists.

One last thing…
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