The Story We’re Missing by Only Focusing on Trump’s Base

One of the things that I’ve noticed since Trump was elected is that we have abandoned the play book for how we evaluate political arguments. For example, whenever someone points out that the president lied again or the foolishness of his positions, the response is typically that such an argument won’t affect his base supporters—as if that is all that matters.

This focus on Trump’s base is perhaps understandable. It is hard for most of us to imagine how someone would have voted for a candidate who is so incredibly unfit for office—much less stick with him over these last seven months. Added to that is that they are the only people the president seems interested in speaking to and the media has been obsessed with writing stories about them. The result is that they are constantly in the spotlight, while other voters are ignored.

We ought to occasionally widen our scope and take a look at the bigger picture. That is why I was interested in the reports on a focus group conducted in Pittsburgh by pollster Peter Hart. Keep in mind that Trump won the state of Pennsylvania by only about 44,000 votes out of a total of almost 6 million cast. The group Hart interviewed was bipartisan, with five of the members having voted for Trump. Not one of them was willing to defend the performance of the candidate they supported. Here are a couple of quotes from them:

“What most disappoints me is he’s such an incredibly flawed individual who has articulated so many of the values that I hold dear,” said Tony Sciullo, a Trump voter who now calls the president an “abject disappointment.” Sciullo added, “The messenger is overwhelming the message.”…

“He’s not even professional, let alone presidential,” added Trump voter Christina Lees, an independent who leans towards the GOP.

Hart, who conducted the focus group, said that the overwhelming message from these voters was that Trump’s presidency has been too focused on himself and not on the concerns of the voters he was elected to represent.

While some of these people continue to express hope that Trump could turn things around, let’s keep in mind what we know about this president that they might not have admitted to themselves yet—he’s not going to change. As a matter of fact, he’ll become even more defensive and self-absorbed as he continues to feel threatened.

Some might respond by saying that this is but one focus group involving only a few people. But Philip Bump came at it from a different direction. He took a look at what is happening with self-described moderate Republicans in Gallup’s weekly polling on Trump’s job approval.

Republicans overall have shed 11 points of support for Trump — but moderate Republicans have dropped 17 points since January.

Among this group, Trump has gone from 75 percent approval to 58 percent. It’s true that this is only one poll. But as I’ve said before, trend lines from an individual pollster that use the same methodology to ask the same questions over time are worth paying attention to. I suspect this is what Hart was tapping into with his focus group.

Under more “normal” circumstances, this would be a huge story. All of the focus on Trump’s base supporters has distorted things and kept us from seeing that it is still worth making the case that this presidency is a massive failure.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.