President Donald Trump
Credit: White House Photo by Tia Dufour/Flickr

I have long argued that conservatives’ innate empathy deficit requires them to suffer directly from societal problems and controversies before they will support basic concepts, like the value of the social safety net or the importance of medical research or the morality of same-sex marriage. We’ve seen this play out with the COVID-19 crisis, as the virus first hit urban centers and coastal regions rather than Republican strongholds.

Republican governors, with only a few exceptions, did not take the pandemic seriously enough and put too much emphasis on reopening their economies. They are now suffering the consequences, and their constituents are turning on them, and on the president. Gallup shows Trump’s approval rating sinking to 38 percent, and the explanation is based almost entirely on new people being impacted by COVID-19.

Pew Research Center polls show Trump’s approval is slipping fastest in the 500 counties where the number of cases have been more than 28 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people.

Pew surveyed voters in late March and the same people again in late June, and found 17% of those who approved of the president in March now disapprove.

The shift came almost equally among Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and college graduates and non-graduates. But those who live in counties with a high number of virus cases were 50% more likely to say they no longer approve of Trump.

It was easy for conservative-minded people, regardless of formal party affiliation, to maintain their support for Trump so long as the pandemic seemed far away and someone else’s fault. These are the folks who stubbornly stuck with the president through everything over the last three and a half years. They created the floor in Trump’s approval ratings.

But they are beginning to abandon him now that it’s their hospitals that are filled with coronavirus patients. They can see that things have not turned out the way that Trump or their Republican governors said they would. That’s why Trump’s approval numbers have dropped, and it’s also why Republican internal polling points to a coming rout at the hands of the Democrats.

Amazingly, as Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey report in the Washington Post, the administration seems to believe that their base of supporters will simply “get over it” and “move on” as they become inured to a steady and massive infection rate.

White House officials also hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day, according to three people familiar with the White House’s thinking, who requested anonymity to reveal internal deliberations. Americans will “live with the virus being a threat,” in the words of one of those people, a senior administration official.

“They’re of the belief that people will get over it or if we stop highlighting it, the base will move on and the public will learn to accept 50,000 to 100,000 new cases a day,” said a former administration official in touch with the campaign.

I’m sure that many conservatives can be convinced to wander back to Trump if they feel less threatened by the virus in the fall. But he’s already done tremendous damage to himself. Conservatives voted for Trump in the hope that he’d ruin other people’s lives, not their own.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at