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Larry Donnelly: 'There is a definite sense that the net is tightening around Donald Trump'

However, the president’s job approval ratings have been on a clear, upward arc as of late, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

THIS WEEK, FOLLOWING repeated condemnations and campaign promises, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

In a speech, he labelled the deal “disastrous,” “horrible,” “one-sided” and a “great embarrassment.” The president further alleged – notwithstanding the contrary findings of independent inspectors – that Iran has continued to seek to expand its capacity to develop nuclear weapons since it signed up to the agreement.

An exceptional move

Experts on Middle Eastern affairs have almost unanimously assailed the decision and assert that this move is truly exceptional in that the US has effectively abandoned several of its closest allies, who are also signatories to the deal, and has voluntarily isolated itself to a perhaps unprecedented extent.

Some argue that the famously incurious and vindictive president was driven as much by disdain for the Obama administration, which expended considerable time and energy in bringing Iran to the table, as by any other purported motivation.

Whether the geopolitical consequences will be as dire as some now predict remains to be seen, but this withdrawal can hardly be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to President Trump or, indeed, to the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress. And what “ordinary Americans” will make of it is hard to know, though it seems that one’s opinion of the controversial president dictates how she sees just about everything in the US these days.

The repudiation of the Iran deal – which rather incongruously comes shortly before a potentially momentous meeting with the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un – emerges as the Trump presidency chaotically and simultaneously veers down two tracks in two Americas.

Two tracks

The mainstream media breathlessly reports on a wide array of almost daily revelations that may ensnare the president and precipitate his impeachment and removal from office: the payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels and possible violation of campaign finance law; the raid on the office of Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, and what it might have unearthed; the widely-held view that Robert Mueller’s investigation is finally nearing its (explosive?) conclusion; the revolving band of lawyers retained by President Trump and the central role of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani; and on, and on.

Millions of Americans who despise the president and desperately want to see him go down lap it all up. Some in the media and in politics who oppose him most virulently latch on to any negative rumour, regardless of its evidentiary foundation or basis in fact. For them, there is a definite sense that the net is tightening around Donald Trump and that he is in deep trouble.

Upward arc

In the other America, however, the president’s job approval ratings have been on a clear, upward arc as of late. The Real Clear Politics website has been aggregating these poll findings since Trump took office.

They had almost invariably hovered between 38% and 39%. These numbers went as high as 44% last weekend and presently sit at 43.2%. This is not a huge leap, yet it is still significant in light of what voters continue to hear confirmed about the leader of the free world.

It must be profoundly vexing to those who believe Donald Trump is manifestly unqualified to occupy the oval office that so many men and women think he is doing a good job. But given myriad solid economic indicators, it is not wholly surprising. And while most of the electorate doesn’t spend much time thinking of what transpires beyond the borders of the US, the prospect of a heretofore highly unlikely rapprochement with North Korea doesn’t hurt him either.

Objective reality

Nonetheless, the objective reality that the Trump presidency is hurting America, or at least that notion of America some of us still maybe naively cling to, is inescapable. In every conceivable – and previously inconceivable – way, the 45th president has shifted the paradigm, for the worse.

Telling one bold face lie after another. Running the White House like it is one interminable episode of The Apprentice. Approaching complex issues at home and abroad with a wilful lack of concern for detail or nuance. None of this was acceptable in the past. But with President Trump, what was once unacceptable is now normal.

And that he has created a “new normal” while holding fast or, by some metrics, increasing his standing in the polls means that his enemies, who seem more confident than ever of his imminent demise, may be getting ahead of themselves.

In this vein, it has become conventional wisdom that Democrats will do extremely well in November’s mid-term elections and should win back the House of Representatives from the Republicans. History, as well as some polling data, suggests a strong performance.

Bad news for Democrats

That said, it is important to remember that roughly 60% of the electorate casts ballots in presidential election years; it is closer to 40% in mid-terms. The latter electorate is whiter, older and more conservative. Tellingly, one recent national poll reveals both that 55% of self-described infrequent voters have a negative opinion of President Trump, but that only 17% of them are likely to vote.

That is bad news for Democrats, who will have to redouble their get out the vote efforts and offer the people beyond their base more than just Trump bashing. The primary contests in both parties, which are already in full swing, are worth keeping abreast of. The president is the giant elephant in the room across the country for Republicans. The relationship between electability and ideological purity is a crucial debating point for Democrats in battleground states.

At the same time, it will be fascinating to monitor the two tracks of the Trump presidency and the two Americas it is careening through. The last stop is anyone’s guess.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

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Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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