From the moment he rode down the escalator at his eponymous Fifth Avenue skyscraper to announce his candidacy three years ago, President Donald Trump has divided Americans.
But the Trump Divide is growing wider and deeper.
As Mr. Trump moves from controversy to controversy, views of the president, pro and con, are hardening, with supporters embracing him more enthusiastically and detractors growing more feverish in their opposition. The middle ground, never very populous, now looks as sparse as a flower bed in February.
.. Certainly Mr. Trump seems disinclined to give ground to his detractors in hopes of winning them over. Rather, he often seems to do the reverse—show that he is prepared to antagonize them further.
After an eruption of criticism over his unwillingness to publicly criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki summit meeting this month, for example, Mr. Trump backtracked slightly—but then promptly slammed into forward gear again by inviting Mr. Putin to another summit in the U.S. this fall. If that left his critics sputtering, well, that seems to be the way Mr. Trump likes them
.. “The more Mr. Trump gets criticized by the media, the more his base seems to rally behind him,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang.
.. A remarkable 88% of self-identified Republicans say they approve of the job he is doing, the highest share within a president’s own party at this stage of a presidency since President George W. Bush’s standing after the 9/11 terror attacks.
.. the share of Americans who say they strongly approve of Mr. Trump’s job performance rose to 29%, the highest mark so far.
.. At the same time, though, the strength of those pro-Trump feelings is more than matched by the intensity of anti-Trump sentiments. Some 52% of voters overall disapprove of the job he is doing, and a stunning 44% say they strongly disapprove.
.. it’s impossible to discount the extent to which a strong economy buys Mr. Trump support and forbearance. Politically, steady job growth can paper over many other doubts—though that also means economic deterioration would be especially dangerous for the president.
.. The core Trump support group always has combined
- those drawn to him for economic reasons (a belief the global economy and its rules are stacked against them), as well as
- those who are drawn to him for cultural reasons (a feeling that Mr. Trump shares their view that society’s elites, immigrants and liberals are combining to hijack their traditional lifestyle).
In marked contrast to the rest of the country, Republicans also say that Trump shares their values (82 percent) and that — get this — he “provides the United States with moral leadership” (80 percent).
.. Yet so strong is the pull of tribalism that we’ve reached a point where partisanship outweighs morality. Republicans aren’t approving of Trump despite his behavior; in calling him a role model, they’re approving his behavior.
.. The difference: Democrats disapproved of Clinton’s morality by 2 to 1 (65 to 33 percent), even as they overwhelmingly approved of his job performance. Only 16 percent of Republicans today say Trump does not provide moral leadership.
.. Such normalizing of Trump’s behavior makes the seediest elements feel safe to crawl out from under their rocks. The FBI reported in November that hate crimes were up again in 2016 after rising in 2015. And the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents were “significantly higher” through the first nine months of 2017
The latest WSJ-NBC News poll looks at how President Trump is currently fairing in counties that voted for him in the 2016 presidential election. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib analyzes other findings from the survey. Photo: AP
During the campaign, when President Trump’s advisers wanted him to stop talking about an issue — such as when he attacked a Gold Star military family — they sometimes presented him with polls demonstrating how the controversy was harming his candidacy.
During the transition, when aides needed Trump to decide on a looming issue or appointment, they often limited him to a shortlist of two or three options and urged him to choose one.
And now in the White House, when advisers hope to prevent Trump from making what they think is an unwise decision, they frequently try to delay his final verdict — hoping he may reconsider after having time to calm down.
.. The president is often impulsive, mercurial and difficult to manage, leading those around him to find creative ways to channel his energies.
.. Some Trump aides spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president, angling to avoid outbursts that might work against him, according to interviews with 18 aides, confidants
.. “I restrict no one, by the way, from going in to see him. But when we go in to see him now, rather than onesies and twosies, we go in and help him collectively understand what he needs to understand to make these vital decisions.”
.. Trump’s penchant for Twitter feuds, name-calling and temperamental outbursts presents a unique challenge.
.. One defining feature of managing Trump is frequent praise, which can leave his team in what seems to be a state of perpetual compliments. The White House pushes out news releases overflowing with top officials heaping flattery on Trump
.. One regular practitioner is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who praised Trump’s controversial statements after white supremacists had a violent rally in Charlottesville and also said he agreed with Trump that professional football players should stand during the national anthem.
.. Former treasury secretary Larry Summers wrote in a Twitter post, “Mnuchin may be the greatest sycophant in Cabinet history.”
.. Especially in the early days of his presidency, aides delivered the president daily packages of news stories filled with positive coverage
.. Some aides and outside advisers hoping to push their allies and friends for top postings, such as ambassadorships, made sure their candidates appeared speaking favorably about Trump in conservative news outlets — and that those news clippings ended up on the president’s desk.
.. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, has frequently resorted to diversionary tactics to manage Trump.
.. he will volunteer to have his staff study Trump’s more unorthodox ideas
.. When Trump wanted to make South Korea pay for the entire cost of a shared missile defense system, McMaster and top aides huddled to come up with arguments that the money spent defending South Korea and Japan also benefited the U.S. economy in the form of manufacturing jobs
.. If [Trump] wanted to do something that I thought could be problematic for him, I would simply, respectfully, ask him if we could possibly wait on it and then reconsider,” Nunberg
.. During the campaign, after reading a story in the New York Times that said Trump’s advisers went on television to talk directly to him, the candidate exploded at his then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, chastising his top aide for treating him like “a baby,”
.. The president appreciates how Mattis, a four-star Marine general, speaks to him candidly but respectfully and often plays down disagreements in public.
.. Mattis’s focus has been on informing the president when they disagree — before the disagreements go public — and maintaining a quiet influence.
.. Mattis has also gone out of his way not to suck up to the president
.. Mattis has also worked to get on Trump’s good side by criticizing the media for putting too much emphasis on his disagreements with Trump
.. When he has broken with the president, Mattis has done it as subtly possible.
.. Several people who have met with Trump in recent weeks said he mocks other officials in Washington, especially fellow Republicans.
.. Trump upset Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) by cutting a deal with Democrats. In subsequent days behind closed doors, the president mocked the reactions of McConnell and Ryan from the meeting with an exaggerated crossing of his arms and theatrical frowns.
.. “They have an on-the-record ‘Dear Leader’ culture, and an on-background ‘This-guy-is-a-joke’ culture,”