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WASHINGTON — The outcome of the 2016 presidential election reinforced a certain lesson. No, not that the universe is a cold, empty, meaningless void, and that hope and justice are pretty lies told by self-deceived fools.

I mean the other lesson: Don’t underestimate Donald Trump.

All good lessons, however, are eventually overlearned, especially by once-burned political commentators. In this case, our reticence disguises just how weak Trump really is. While it is absurd at this point to predict anything about the 2020 presidential election, no sane candidate would prefer to be playing Trump’s hand.

Michael Gerson mug

Michael Gerson

The most recent national election — the 2018 midterms — showed strong Democratic enthusiasm and collapsing Republican support in many suburban areas.

Take Northern Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, which Republican Barbara Comstock won in 2016 by nearly 6 percentage points. In 2018, Comstock lost her seat to a Democrat by 12 points — a massive swing during the first two years of the Trump presidency.

Trump placed the blame on Comstock — who had sided with Trump 98 percent of the time in House votes — for being insufficiently enthusiastic about his person. It was a remarkable display of gracelessness and delusion.

The question arises: What has Trump done in the interval between the midterms and today to change the minds of suburban voters who helped win the House for Democrats in Virginia’s 10th district and elsewhere? The answer occurs: nothing. Nothing at all.

Trump’s current poll numbers are poor — in some cases historically poor.

Unlike every other recent president, he has never reached a job approval rating of 50%, according to Gallup. A recent Quinnipiac poll puts his approval at 38%. A recent poll in Virginia by Roanoke College had Trump’s job approval at 27% — an 11-point drop since February.

There is evidence that his signature political approach — his mix of rancor and racism — is alienating women in large numbers. Overall, Trump won white women by 2 points in 2016.

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Recent polls have him losing women by double digits in matchup polls against all the main Democratic contenders. According to 2016 exit polls, Trump won white, working-class women by 27 points. Two recent polls have him up by only 7.

External conditions may be turning against Trump. There are signs of weaker economic growth, increasing fears of recession and an apparently endless trade war with China that (according to a recent economic analysis) will cost the average American family $460 over the course of a year.

The Quinnipiac poll finds, for the first time, that more Americans think Trump is hurting the economy than helping it. He is already pre-blaming American companies and the Federal Reserve in case economic conditions turn south — indicating the shape of his worst fears.

And internally, the president’s precarious emotional balance seems further unbalanced by adversity. His normal chaos has become whirling, flailing, frothing chaos.

He “hereby ordered” American companies to cease doing business in China — transcending the debate between conservative and progressive economics with a dose of fascist economics.

He promised pardons to aides who broke the law in building the southern border wall. He used his high office to attack Omarosa and Debra Messing. He claimed “Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” (Truth rating: Pants on Fire!) He suggested one of his properties as the next location for the G-7 summit, then defended it against charges of bedbug infestation.

He denied a well-reported news story revealing that he proposed to blow up hurricanes with nuclear weapons. And he tweeted out the almost-certainly classified photo of a failed Iranian missile launch.

Says one strongly Republican friend: “I’m trying to imagine what would be happening on the right today if [Barack] Obama were president and had tweeted out a classified photo of an Iranian missile site clearly taken from his intelligence briefing with a stupid comment about it. People would be calling for his impeachment. And yet Trump does it and everyone has an excuse to offer.”

To win reelection, Trump will need to take and get credit for a strong economy, control his self-destructive tendencies on Twitter and in press availabilities, and draw a very liberal Democratic opponent.

The first condition is very much up in the air. The third is in the hands of Democrats. Recent events, however, show that the second condition will almost certainly not be met. Trump seems incapable of carrying forward any political strategy that requires something more than immediate obedience to his rampant impulses.

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Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson can be reached at michaelgerson@washpost.com.

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(18) comments

new2Lax

The proof of Trumps economy is not covered by the media with the exception of the number one cable network, Fox. They at least put up the numbers, that is why you need proof, you never see it, but the numbers are there. Maybe if your an investor, just check your quarterly report. Next you may want to check your taxes, they are lower for 80% of the people, you may even notice your income has grown, you may notice your prescription drug prices have been lower, first time in 50 years, maybe you know someone who has finally got a job with the low unemployment numbers, maybe you know someone in the military who thinks the military is much better funded and even the VA can now go to a civilian clinic or hospital for treatment if the wish, you may take comfort in the fact we are now energy independent, you may have heard Trump was the one getting the Keystone pipeline approved making it so, maybe you know people that are no longer on food stamps, you may have heard the consumer sentiment numbers are the best in years, maybe someone in the black community told you the unemployment for blacks, Latino’s and women at lowest levels ever recorded, maybe you follow the GDP numbers and noticed a substantial increase in them from the previous eight years of Obama, if you know any Jewish folks they may have conveyed the embassy move to Jerusalem was finally accomplished by Trump, maybe someone told you favorable trade deals were made with our interest as a priority by Japan, Canada, Mexico, UK and soon China. You may have heard Trump is now contemplating another tax cut for the middle class, did I mention the Southern order Wall is being built which will help drug enforcement and illegal immigration. These are just a few of the things you don’t know and this was all accomplished in two years, god, when I said it I can hardly believe it myself. I guess if someone told me these things happened, I wouldn't believe it either.

oldhomey

Well, now that you mention it, new2, you and Fox have said these things have happened. And you know what? I don't believe it.

Climatehoax

Don’t you get krap in your eyes when your head is up your arse? I bet when avoid knowing the good Trump is doing by saying, “la lalalalala, “real loud, closing your eyes and putting your hands over your ears, you know like someone avoiding news they don’t want to hear.


oldhomey

Yes, you have described me perfectly, Climate. I am not some well-informed elitist like you, who comes on here armed with boatloads of facts and factual information that buttresses your quietly and elegantly stated, well-reasoned positions. Just considering your chosen screen name is evidence enough of that. Excuse me while I go clean my glasses.

Climatehoax

Trump isn’t a politician, he’s doing a job, getting America on the right track. Politicians, and especially Obama, NEVER quit campaigning, probably why so little gets done by politicians, where as Trump is doing a good job, the votes will come, there still are many people with the ability to see the good he’s doing, the DemoRat ideas are SO far out there, they’ll push votes to Trump.

Just in case Trump loses I want to get my name on the following lists so the Govment can take care of me:

I need my old medical bills paid

I need free housing like the illegals

I want the same protection from the law as sanctuary cities give criminal illegals so I can kill and rape at my leisure

I need my college loans paid

I want totally free medical care like the lawbreaking illegals get

I’m going to quit work, because this group thinks people should be paid if the CHOOSE not to work

I figure this will last about six months, then the payments will end because there’s no money and the country will burn when the freeloaders can’t get free stuff anymore.



These asinine promises are what the Dems are actually putting out there, only lazy liberals will vote for a DemoRat

Climatehoax

Midterm Seat Loss Averages 37 for Unpopular Presidents

Obama lost 63 seats in the house in the midterms

Trump lost 26



More BS propaganda by the anti Trump MSM. Trying to make Trump look like a loser. Stupid liberal voters fall all over these misleading articles.



Also, after Trump kicked Hil Liar y to the curb, it was discovered, u Trump supporters weren’t saying who they supported when polled because of the violence of the hateful, vile, mean liberals. So you can throw the polls out, because the libtards are actually MORE repulsive now than in 2016 .

oldhomey

I think Gerson is one of the best political commentators in the business, but I detect here that he is being more optimistic about defeating Trump than I am. It really is up to the Democrats. They have to choose somebody who is not going to scare the bejesus out of the vast centrist majority of voters. If they do choose the wrong person, so many people will stay home on election day that Trump's loyalists, all of 35 percent of the electorate, will be enough to give him another Electoral College victory.

martian2

I will proudly state I voted for Obama twice. I didn't get perfection with Obama, I don't expect perfection from anyone. but not once during his presidency did I doubt his humanity, his dignity, or his concern for every American. With Trump I doubt those things every second.

Jobaba

Me too! And I also didn't worry about another World War or being taken over by Russia.

Rick Czeczok

Are you really that blind. Or do you just chose to believe in something that wasn't.

oldhomey

Well, Ricky, we all are SO impressed by the acuity of your political vision, of how nothing escapes your eagle eye. Tell us what martian and Jobaba have been too blind to see. And please back up what you say with a few facts.

Rick Czeczok

Let me remind you of just a couple. Use the IRS to go after people who didn't agree with him. Use the justice department as his own police force. The riots he personally started with his comments against the police. Maybe you just chose not to see, I agree no one is perfect but please stop with making that guy your God. His legacy is all but destroyed already.

oldhomey

Who on here has declared Obama a "God", Ricky? Who on here has defended Obama beyond reason, like so many do in their support of the worst president in history, Donald Trump? Legacies aren't determined in a matter of months or a couple of years. It takes a few decades. I have full confidence whose legacy will be more admired later in this century between Obama and Trump, and it ain't going to be the strange guy with orange, thin skin and a weird hair-do.

Rick Czeczok

You asked for examples and I give them to you. Now you go off on another tangent. Please try to stay on task as hard as it is for an ignorant old draft dodger who made money off the Vietnam war while others his age were dying paying for his freedom and ability to talk against this great country. You are truly the definition of a socialist oink.

oldhomey

"Use the IRS to go after people who didn't agree with him." Nope, did not happen. Fox News talking point. "Use the justice department as his own police force." Nope, did not happen. Fox News talking point. "The riots he personally started with his comments against the police." Where the hell did you come up with this one? Laughable. Show the evidence, boy.

martian2

as usual, ricky boy gives absolutely no proof of anything he says. Obama personally starting riots, what a bunch of b.s.. Just more right wing lies that they keep repeating hoping to make it true. As far as your god, I've never seen such fanatical support for any politician like there is for Trump. You right wingers ought to be embarrassed to be led by nose by one such as Trump.

Rick Czeczok

Wow you are blind to facts. No wonder you were kicked off thios board under your other fake name "Kingman". You have lost all respect of everyone but your club of socialist on this board. Just go to the county shop and say hi to the guys. I know you will be told to leave and laughed at.

martian2

wow what a great response ricky boy/fake veteran. Well thought out for a three year old. Can't back up what you say so the name calling starts again, how very mature of you. You intellect is something to behold. Your stupidity is something to be ignored.

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