Base to Trump: Start listening to experienced Republicans

U.S. President Donald Trump and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) walk from Marine One to board Air Force One as they depart Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX3E0T0

When President Trump bashes the Senate Majority Leader, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Speaker of the House, he may be pleasing himself and Breitbart News, but there is no evidence that he is pleasing the majority of his base.

As numerous studies have shown, working-class whites gave Mr. Trump about two-thirds of their votes last November and were crucial to his victory in Pennsylvania and key Midwestern states. Because their reaction to the early months of his presidency is especially important, I asked the Pew Research Center staff to break out working-class whites’ responses from a broad survey they released on August 29. The results were startling.

The conventional wisdom is that working class whites dislike members of the Republican establishment and are happy when President Trump criticizes them and goes his own way. But, according to the survey, when Pew researchers asked working-class voters who do not identify as Democrats whether Mr. Trump should listen more or listen less to Republicans who have experience in government, 58 percent said he should listen more, compared to only 34 percent who said less. In this regard, there was no difference whatever between the white working class and white voters with college degrees.

One explanation for this sentiment: white working class voters are less than enthusiastic about the Trump presidency thus far. Only 47 percent of these voters agree with the president’s approach on the most important issues facing the country, while 52 percent disagree. Only 24 percent approve of the way he conducts himself as president, 31 percent have mixed feelings, and 44 percent express outright disapproval. Substantial majorities of working class whites describe Mr. Trump as intelligent and decisive. On the other hand, they split 50/50 on the question of whether he is honest, 50 percent think he is prejudiced, and 58 percent say that he is selfish.

Asked about Mr. Trump’s ability to handle specific issues, white working class voters expressed more confidence than did whites with college degrees. But even here, among what should be the president’s staunchest supporters, doubts were widespread. On the one hand, large majorities expressed confidence in his ability to pick good federal judges and negotiate favorable trade agreements with others countries. On the other, 44 percent lacked confidence in his ability to make wise decisions about the use of nuclear weapons, and an identical share of these voters weren’t confident about his decisions concerning immigration policy.

There is a classic formula for political success: unify your supporters and divide your opponents. Looking beyond the white working class to the full survey, Pew finds that after seven months in office, President Trump has done the opposite: Democrats are united against him while Republicans are divided in their assessment.

Ninety-three percent, of Democrats disagree with most or all of Mr. Trump’s policies. If Mr. Trump had succeeded in unifying his party behind his agenda, we would find a similarly overwhelming percentage of Republicans agreeing with most or all of his policies. Instead, only 69 percent of Republicans take this position, while 30 percent join Democrats in disagreeing with most or all of his stances on the issues.

When it comes to Mr. Trump’s conduct as president, a similar pattern emerges: while 89 percent of Democrats dislike the way he conducts himself, only 34 percent of Republicans express their approval. 46 percent admit to “mixed feelings,” and another 19 percent disapprove outright.

Large majorities of Republicans continue to regard Mr. Trump as intelligent, decisive, and honest. On the other hand, only 45 percent regard him as even-tempered, 31 percent say he is prejudiced, and 41 percent describe him as “selfish.”

Divide and conquer is what you’re supposed to do to the other side, not your own. Whatever the alt-right press may say, this is not a formula for success.