Among the Trump Doubters

They like his policies but a persona giving off nonstop static may keep them home

By Daniel Henninger

Sept. 5, 2018 7:09 p.m. ET

President Donald Trump speaks on the telephone via speakerphone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in the Oval Office, Aug. 27.PHOTO: WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES

Back when Donald Trump was defeating 12 or so Republicans for the 2016 presidential nomination, no matter what he said or what anyone wrote about him, his support among early primary voters usually hovered somewhere in the 30s. You could set your watch by a Trump critical mass of one-third voting for him.

This third, then and now, is the eternal Trump base. Look at presidential approval polls, and there they are. In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Mr. Trump’s “strong” approvers were 31%.

These are the Trump believers. But during two weeks away from politics, I kept finding myself among the Trump doubters. To be sure, most of them were in Europe, the fountainhead of doubt. They would demand of their visitor: “Explain Trump.”

The explanation went like this: There are two Trumps. There is Donald Trump the person, to whom one can attach 20 adjectives and nouns along a scale from obnoxious idiot to unappreciated genius. This is the Trump of Twitter .

The second Trump is the Trump presidency, which consists of hundreds of individuals appointed to execute his policies. In President Trump’s first year, those policies included the immigrant travel ban, news of which spread throughout the world. But with the help of a Republican Congress, his policies also included the reversal of the Obama era’s multitudinous economic regulations and in December a 40% reduction in the corporate-tax rate, to 21% from 35%.

In the six months between December and everyone’s summer vacation, the U.S. economy achieved full employment. We now have a labor shortage. Unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics are at historic lows. After eight years of suppression, a still-powerful U.S. economy has been liberated.

With a couple of exceptions, this tale of two Trumps fell on deaf ears in Europe. They would reply: “But that doesn’t explain Trump.”

It is a familiar phenomenon—Donald Trump the person as a permanent political eclipse. Back in the spring, news stories appeared in which Democrats complained that Mr. Trump was “blotting out the sun.” The media wasn’t paying attention to them, not even the Trump-obsessed progs at MSNBC.

The Trumpian eclipse has been mesmerizing, but it’s probably going to end with November’s midterm elections. As always, the Trump third will punch in for candidates he endorsed in the primaries, but as in 2016, where will the GOP find enough voters to win in a general election? The answer, and the result, lies among the Trump doubters.

For about a month, I’ve been carrying in my head a conversation with a woman in New York. Actually, it wasn’t a conversation. She unloaded.

“You are looking,” she said, “at a one-woman focus group.” A financial analyst, she said she voted for Donald Trump and that she and her husband had benefited personally from President Trump’s policies. She saw how the country’s well-being was on the rise.

But doubts about the president had become hard to shake. All the negative static, the Twitter, the constant storm of controversy, the omnipresent Trump persona. It was wearing her down. Would she cast a second Trump vote? “Maybe. Probably.”

This woman wasn’t one of the case-hardened Trump 33%, but she was part of the margin that provided his victory. Every Republican running in a competitive November race has to wonder how many of them are in their districts and whether they will vote.

Midterm elections are traditionally tough on the president’s party, but for GOP candidates these should still be the best of times.

Here are three headlines from Tuesday’s online Journal: “U.S. Factory Sector Clocks Strongest Growth in 14 Years.” “Consumer Sentiment Boosted by Job Optimism: Future income, employment confidence cited by consumers for their positive spending views.” “U.S. Auto Sales Maintain Momentum for Now.”

Last week, Mitch McConnell’s Senate confirmed Mr. Trump’s 60th judicial nominee. Voters concerned about the courts were another reason for Mr. Trump’s victory.

This all qualifies as winning, which would be helping GOP candidates in tough races if not for one unchangeable reality: Mr. Trump is blotting out their sun, too.

Why should Mr. Trump’s “fake-news” media opposition waste time covering an economic boom when they’ve got the clickbait of a president repeatedly tweet-mocking his own attorney general, publicizing the Mueller “witch hunt,” fighting with fixer-lawyer Michael Cohen, and fiddling with the height of the White House flag after John McCain died?

Trump voters-turned-doubters probably will sink the GOP this fall. But if they need a reason to vote in November, try this: There may be 20 ways to describe Donald Trump, but just one will do for the outpourings during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing from Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris, Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, Mazie Hirono, Cory Booker and Dick Durbin. Unbearable.

If the blue wave breaks in November, we will spend the next two years engulfed in the Democrats’ moral condescension. Anything but that.

Write henninger@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/among-the-trump-doubters-1536188987

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