One GOP Strategist On Why President Trump Holds High Approval Among Republicans10:59
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President Trump speaks during a campaign rally for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at Airport High School on June 25, 2018 in West Columbia, S.C. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
President Trump speaks during a campaign rally for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at Airport High School on June 25, 2018 in West Columbia, S.C. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

President Trump's approval ratings have fallen slightly over the past week, according to weekly polling from Gallup, as his administration pursued a "zero tolerance" policy that led to the separation of immigrant parents and children at the border. Gallup finds that Trump's highest ever approval rating, 45 percent, has fallen back to 41 percent.

Among Republicans, Trump's 90 percent approval rating slipped just slightly to 87 percent. GOP strategist John Brabender says that approval figure among Republicans "can only be viewed as pretty strong," but might not mean all that much ahead of this year's midterm elections.

"I don't think that the Republicans are going to win or lose the race based on Republicans," Brabender (@JohnBrabender) tells Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti. "The wild card this year is going to be the blue-collar Democrats that actually supported and voted Trump president, places in Rust Belt states and other states that have critical races this year. So I think that's the number to watch more than anything."

Interview Highlights

On what to make of these poll numbers

"I think we're looking at a lot of fluidity. But more importantly, let's look at the history: Two years into any president, there are problems. I mean the same thing happened on the Democrats. In 1994, the Republicans did very well two years into Bill Clinton. In 2010, the Republicans did very well two years into President Obama. And so some of these numbers aren't surprising.

"But No. 2, coming off the presidential win, we knew we were going to still have a divided America and a lot of controversy over issues. And I think what you can also add to the mix is that Donald Trump is moving very quickly with his agenda, and he's letting people know, 'Either get on board, or we're going to do it without you.' And that comes with a certain amount of controversy as well. And that's why there is going to be fluidity. We look at issues right now that we say, 'Oh my gosh, that's the big issue for the fall.' The fall may have a completely different issue that none of us are even talking about yet. And so that's why I think we have to take these poll numbers a little bit carefully."

"Donald Trump is moving very quickly with his agenda, and he's letting people know, 'Either get on board, or we're going to do it without you.' And that comes with a certain amount of controversy."

John Brabender

On the lack of a Trump alternative within the Republican Party

"To really understand the environment and to understand this particular president — and it took me a while to figure this out — you can't look at President Trump. You have to look at Trump supporters. And it's a strange coalition. I hear all the time when they say the president's 'playing to his base.' Well, his base is really not just Republicans. As I was saying before, it's a lot of blue-collar Democrats, or what I call the sons and daughters of what we used to call Reagan Democrats, where they're with the president on trade, they're with the president on immigration, they're with the president on national security. And so it creates a real problem for other Republican leaders who may not always agree with the president, because the president has a pretty strong support among the sort of grassroots network.

"And we see that: Look at some of the most recent elections that happened. In South Carolina, we saw that he came out against [Republican Rep. Mark] Sanford, Sanford loses. In West Virginia, he came out against one of the Senate candidates, he came a distant third. So the president has a pretty big stick in the sense of being able to be out there and tweet support for some candidate's opposition to another, and it seems to do well when he does that. And when you have that type of power, what it makes it is much more difficult for an alternative to sort of rise, because John Kasich and others can sort of raise their hand and say, 'I want to be that person.' But when they turn around, there's really nobody standing behind them. And so it becomes very problematic for them to get any real traction."

"The pundits might all say, 'Oh that's so controversial.' But there's a core group of Americans who voted him president who are happy he's doing some of these things."

John Brabender

On what that difficulty could mean for the party's future come November

"Look, I think we're going to find out a lot in this November's elections, and I think it's too early to even make predictions. I mean, generally speaking, the Democrats are going to pick ... up around 25 or 26 seats, is what's expected in the House. The question is, do they take control of the Senate, which is much more difficult for the Democrats this year, because most of the highly contested seats are already Democrat seats. And you have people like [Sen.] Joe Manchin in West Virginia, who is usually vulnerable because he disagreed with the president on a couple of key issues, such as the tax cuts, the president and vice president called him out on it, and Joe Manchin's numbers in West Virginia fell, so now you have a targeted race there.

"I'll give you one of the most fascinating statistics of the exit surveys from 2016, was we had the first woman running on a national ticket for president, but if you go look at non-college-educated white women, they voted over 60 percent for Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, which you would think they would have more of an affiliation with. Yet they like what Donald Trump is doing, and that was not seen in any of the survey data going on.

"And so I think, you've got to look — when you have a president like this, who is being very aggressive and standing up for certain things — that ... the pundits might all say, 'Oh that's so controversial.' But there's a core group of Americans who voted him president who are happy he's doing some of these things, and I think it's a really difficult thing to try to figure out how that's going to impact the 2018 elections at this point."

This segment aired on June 26, 2018.

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