- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2019

President Trump’s boost in polls following his State of the Union address has proved to be surprisingly durable, even as he loses battles in Congress and faces round-the-clock scorn from potential 2020 rivals.

Mr. Trump emerged from the speech in early February with a cleaner message and approval ratings that averaged in the mid-40s. He then avoided another government shutdown while battling Congress over his border wall plans — and has managed to maintain his numbers.

His approval averaged at 44 percent Thursday, about 2 percentage points better than right before his Feb. 5 address on Capitol Hill, said Ron Faucheux, a nonpartisan political analyst and publisher of Lunchtime Politics.

It may not seem like much of a bounce, but every bit counts for the unconventional president, who is touting a robust economy and is needling House Democrats who have gained subpoena power but are struggling with intraparty divisions.

“If he had received 1 point less of the popular vote in 2016 nationwide, he would have lost,” Mr. Faucheux said. “For him, re-election is about inches not miles.”

Though one big poll shows his ratings are starting to slide, Mr. Trump still holds a post-speech bump of about 2 points in Real Clear Politics’ polling average.

After the president’s favorite poll, Rasmussen Reports, showed him stooping into the low 40s during a lengthy government shutdown, he has since flirted with 50 percent approval in Rasmussen.

The streak continues even as Congress steps up its investigations of Mr. Trump and has passed a resolution to terminate his emergency declaration for illegal border crossings.

Mr. Trump vetoed that move Friday, saying the declaration is needed to fund a wall.

“I suspect many of his voters will blame Congress for [the situation] rather than blame Trump,” said Fran Coombs, managing editor of Rasmussen Reports, which tracks approval every day. “What we’ve seen pretty much since Trump entered the scene is he’s got a solid base of supporters and solid base of detractors.”

That dynamic explains why Mr. Trump’s approval has floated around the low to mid-40s — he captured 46 percent of the nationwide vote in 2016 — without tanking or grabbing new supporters to get above the waterline.

“Watching the president’s approval ratings is like watching a seismograph in Vermont — not much movement because of the steadiness of his base,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University. “What fluctuations there are — up or down — are relatively modest. Most people pretty much have their minds made up about Donald Trump.”

Mr. Trump received a slight bump in approval from his State of the Union Address last year, but it dissipated little more than a month later.

One difference this year is that he is now sharing the spotlight with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat; freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat; and the crowded Democratic presidential field. While battling Mr. Trump, the Democrats have debated the extent of a government-run, single-payer health care plan and whether to embrace Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s major greenhouse gas emissions overhaul known as the Green New Deal.

Differences within the party seem to be working in the president’s favor, or at least directing the glare of public opinion elsewhere.

“The State of the Union speech helped clean up his messaging, and some of the benefits of that remain,” Mr. Faucheux said. “I think there are two reasons for that. First, the economy is in good shape. Second, the Democrats have moved too far left, giving him something to run against.”

The White House says America is “winning” again, so people are starting to notice.

“Our economy is stronger than ever before, jobs are growing, wages are rising and America is respected again internationally,” said Judd Deere, White House deputy press secretary. “When President Trump promised greatness again, he was serious, and he has kept his word.”

Even so, Mr. Trump faces a partly cloudy outlook.

His disapproval rating consistently tops 50 percent, and his approval rating has tumbled 4 percentage points in Gallup’s polling from 43 percent in late February to 39 percent at the start of March.

A weaker-than-expected jobs report at the end of the polling period might have worked against the president, the pollster said.

Mr. Trump’s 39 percent approval is equal to his mark at the start of the federal shutdown in late December and puts him far behind other recent presidents at this point in their first terms, by Gallup’s measure.

Barack Obama hit 47 percent in March 2011, George W. Bush was at 58 percent in March 2003 — around the start of the Iraq War — and Bill Clinton clocked in at 48 percent in March 1995.

Yet Rasmussen says Mr. Trump is on par with Mr. Obama at this point, with both floating in the high 40s.

Where Mr. Trump’s approval goes in future months may depend on special counsel Robert Mueller.

The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Mueller’s report, expected soon, will not be as explosive as once thought. Yet that is speculation.

“If they come out with some damning proof that Trump did something or other, yes, that will hurt his numbers,” Mr. Coombs said.

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