Amidst all the speculation about the scope and direction of Robert Mueller’s deepening Trump-Russia probe — triggered anew by the indictment of Paul Manafort — one thing is certain: No matter what happens on the legal front in the days and weeks ahead, Trump’s credulous fan base will remain wedded to him ‘til death do they part.
They won’t care a whit that Trump’s ex-campaign chairman has been charged with money-laundering and conspiracy against the United States. They’ll dismiss any and all indictments as deep-state concoctions and fake-news conflations.
They’ll continue to guzzle all the junk food served up by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News talking heads and Wall Street Journal editorial writers, all the nonsense about how it’s really ObamaHillaryDemocrats who’ve been in cahoots with Russia — precisely the kind of disinformation that Putin has perfected to confuse and exhaust the oppressed people of Russia.
All told, they’ll continue to gift Trump an approval rating in the range of 35 to 38 percent, which he will take and use.
Granted, that’s pitiful popularity for a president nine months into his tenure — by far the worst in the history of polling — especially when you consider that some recent polls have reported that as high as 48 percent of Americans want him to be impeached. But alas, the traditional political metrics no longer apply. Putin’s useful idiot, the beneficiary of Russia’s unprecedented intervention in our electoral process, is playing by his own set of rules and the rest of us are playing catch up.
If you’re still wondering how Trump can possibly have the gall to do what he does — to trash the rule of law, to impugn an independent investigation, to fail spectacularly as a leader on legislation — with seemingly no regard for his horrific standing in the polls, I recommend the analysis that appears below. It comes to us from Todd Harris, a veteran Republican strategist whom I’ve long respected as a smart dude and straight shooter. He made these remarks at a recent political symposium:
“Trump’s ideology is popularity. There is nothing more important for the president. It’s not policy. It’s certainly nothing in Republican dogma that motivates him. What motivates him is his popularity. He wants to be loved. And you could say, ‘Well, how is that possible? His approval ratings are not nearly where you would think that they should be for someone who is motivated by popularity.’
“But I don’t believe that the president views public opinion the way that previous presidents have viewed it, which is something you use the bully pulpit to shape and to meld and to try to build some kind of national consensus. I think Trump views public opinion as a commodity. It’s something you own, your piece of it that you tend to. You own a slice of it …
“It’s like you own your building. You need to make sure your building is well-maintained and you don’t care about the building across the street.”
There it is, folks. Trump just tends to his building, with serial lies and detestable tweets, and he couldn’t care less if the rest of the American neighborhood goes to pot as long as he can keep his tenants content and ignorant.
This is why he’s currently feeding them gaslit garbage about how Hillary supposedly sold uranium to the Russians seven years ago, a tiresome old lie that Trump — with help from servile congressional allies and his mouthpieces in the de facto state media — has lately sought to recycle. The Hillary uranium yarn has been thoroughly exposed as the antithesis of fact, but under the cynical rules of Putin-Trump politics, fact is irrelevant. All that matters is the counter-narrative. The uranium faux scandal is raw meat for Trump’s tenants to chew on. It’s designed to distract them from the real-world fact that Mueller is breathing down his neck.
In short, it’s designed to placate his piece of public opinion. As Todd Harris said, it’s something Trump owns. And there’s no evidence, even in the wake of indictments, that his tenants are itching to split.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.