The Trump Fever Never Breaks

In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has achieved at least three things that few presidents ever have.

  1. His approval rating is in the 30s.
  2. His former aides — and reportedly the president himself — are under federal investigation.
  3. And members of Mr. Trump’s own party are running what has been described as a shadow campaign to replace him in 2020.

.. The more Mr. Trump’s candidacy was said to flatline, the more life I saw in his crowds.

.. In August 2015, a month after a high-ranking Republican National Committee operative promised me that America would never tolerate a man with no military service disparaging an American military hero, I was standing on a football field in Mobile, Ala., surrounded by 30,000 screaming Trump fans, an unheard-of turnout six months before a primary. Were they mad about the candidates words on Mr. McCain? No. The opposite. “He’s not afraid of anybody,” one woman told me.

.. But then, as now, the view from armchairs in Washington and newsrooms around the country missed something that it was impossible to miss out on the trail. Mr. Trump’s supporters were tired — of Washington, of the media, of waiting. And that fatigue allowed them to overlook a lot. They knew he was flawed but at least, they thought, he was on their side.

.. “Why do people fighting for a raise relate to all of this?” I asked a man in a tuxedo. “Because deep down, they know he’s one of them,” he said.

Trump sees us,” his supporters would tell me, everywhere we stopped. “You don’t.”

.. Sure, they liked a lot of his policies and ideas, but they weren’t married to any of them. They wanted the man above all. And if he said it, they’d find a way to support it, even if he reversed himself the next day.

.. I once asked a man heading into a rally why he supported Donald Trump.

“Because he is going to build a wall,” the man said.

“What if he doesn’t?” I countered.

“I trust his judgment,” the man said.

.. The building blocks of political life are too complex to predict, too unstable to rely on. But I do know what political devotion looks like, and I do know what happens when you choose to discount it.