If Trump only rallied the same people who voted for McCain or Romney, he would have lost the election just as badly as they did. Despite losing the popular vote, he swung enough Obama voters from blue states to win the Electoral College.
They were willing to take a risk on him since he campaigned as anything but the typical Republican -- populist rather than elitist, and isolationist more than globalist. That combination was right up the alley of Rust Belt voters who want to re-industrialize the dilapidated economy, who want to protect and enhance the social safety net, and who don't give a shit about "America's standing / leadership in the world".
The empty words of his speech yesterday on drug prices are just the latest example of abandoning the populist themes of his campaign. GOP partisans trapped in the Fox News bubble might not remember, but the moderates, Independents, and non-partisans who might tune into their competitor MSNBC got a vivid reminder last night when Chris Hayes & co. got to dunk on Trump for an entire segment.
And unlike the eye-rolling conspiracy theories that begin the evening shows, the later segments are sadly true enough -- they re-broadcast a detailed description that Trump gave to Joe & Mika during a town hall in February 2016, where he says our drug prices are sky-high because the government refuses to use its massive collective buying power (through Medicare D) to negotiate down the prices. He said other politicians won't tackle that problem because they're all bought off by the drug companies and their lobbyists, but not me -- I alone can fix, because I'm putting up my own money for my campaign. When I become president, I'm going to negotiate those prices down so fast it'll make ya head spin, and we'll save $300 billion a year.
He has supported single-payer healthcare for the better part of 20 years, and made it known on an hour-long episode of Larry King Live, when he was thinking of running on the Reform Party ticket in 2000. He still does: Michael Wolff recounts, in Fire and Fury, that during the healthcare discussions early in his term, the president asked the other Republicans bluntly, "Why don't we just have Medicare cover everybody?" The other GOP-ers pretended not to have heard such a heresy against Reaganism, which requires maximizing profits for the wealthy even if it impoverishes the majority. Medicare has minimal overhead and administrative costs because it's not profit-maximizing and does not pay its managers obscene salaries.
After surrendering without a fight on single-payer, Trump has wimped out even further by not even delivering on the promise of negotiating down drug prices. As a cosplay president, he acts as though his only role is to be an "ideas guy" who tosses out these heterodox policies -- but if they get shot down by the dinosaur GOP, well, hey, I tried. Maybe he'll bring up the ideas again and again -- but he will never wield power to force the GOP to carry out his orders, which come straight from the American people.
Indeed, as an utter novice in the government, he has no political capital other than the ability to mobilize the collective action of his supporters. But after more than a year of surrendering to the moribund Reaganite Establishment, he has allowed that support base to die off rather than cultivate it. Sure, he's still got the Tea Party and other partisan GOP people -- but just ask McCain and Romney how far that gets you in nationwide elections.
Using the government's buying power to negotiate down drug prices would have been the perfect chance to corral some of his alienated non-partisan supporters back into the fold -- especially during mid-term season when healthcare costs are such a major concern for voters of both parties. Nothing like a little unorthodox policy-stealing to leave the Dems with nothing left to run on other than "It's Mueller time!"
Mouth-breathing GOP partisans will support him no matter what he does, so it makes even less sense to cater to them. "What's that? -- Trump is transitioning us toward single-payer healthcare? Now that's my president! Looks like Barack Hussein Obama is just jealous that a Republican is going to give us Medicare for all! In your face, liberals!" Of course, if Trump pushes for the exact opposite policy, they'll hoot it up over that too. "No president of ours, especially not Trump, is going to lead us into the single-payer grave! Looks like Barrack Hussein Obama is just jealous that a Republican is going to thwart his backdoor plan for single-payer AKA Obamacare. Suck it, liberals!"
With the partisan mouth-breathers locked in no matter if he supports one policy or its polar opposite, he must cater to those who are issue-based voters, and particularly those who swung the election to him in a way that McCain and Romney could not manage. Not abortion issue voters, or gun issue voters -- but Medicare-for-all issue voters, terminate NAFTA issue voters, non-interventionist issue voters.
Instead he has wasted every opportunity to maintain and grow whatever goodwill he initially enjoyed from the other side, who were Independent Obama voters rather than partisan liberal Democrats. His approval rating was actually even-steven around his Inauguration, and I recall a good chunk of non-Trump voters saying at the time, "Hold on, give him a chance, let's wait and see, at least he'll be better than typical Republicans," and so on. After the first couple months as it became clear this would be a Ted Cruz presidency, that goodwill collapsed, and he has been underwater by about 10 points ever since -- sometimes a little higher or lower, depending on the events of the week, but nowhere near his initial breaking-even point.
That's true even for the conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll, where he began in the low-to-mid 50s, before falling to the low-to-mid 40s for most of the time since. During his recent upswing, he's still only in the high 40s, occasionally touching 50-51, but not higher, noticeably below his initial ratings.
How worrying should this be?
According to the American National Election Survey, among Trump's general election voters, 50% had already voted in the primary stage, and of those, 5% voted for Bernie Sanders (only half as many had voted for Hillary in the primary). That means 2.5% of Trump's total voters were Bernie voters -- not just Bernie supporters or sympathizers, but who were populist enough to actually cast a ballot for him, as opposed to other wimpy populists on the Dem side who voted for Hillary in the primary.
Trump's share of the vote in close Rust Belt states was about 48% -- MI, WI, and PA -- meaning that he got just over 1 of those percentage points from Bernie voters (2.5% of 48 points). In fact, Bernie voters probably made up an even larger share of his total in those states, since they were more Bernie-friendly in the primaries than was the nation overall. And he won all three of those states by less than 1 point. The only reason he won the election was by coaxing over these wary Bernie Democrats, not by pandering to the maxed-out Reaganite base.
He used to brag about that fact, which distinguished him from the other Republicans in the primary -- "I'm the only one who can get Democrats to cross over, folks. The Bernie people are really gonna like me on trade, that I can tell you."
Yet the only measure he's taken to appease these voters has been to "announce" tariffs on steel, before carving out exemptions for every major source of steel into our country, minus Japan. Even there, the admin's goal seems to be using that tariff threat in order to get back into the TPP, which is led by Japan. Trump left the TPP negotiations early, but has several times expressed the desire to get back into them, knowing damn well there is no good deal there for Rust Belt industrial workers. In other words, the admin's goal is to break one promise in order to break another promise -- to exempt Japan from steel tariffs in order to entangle the US back into the TPP.
Tariffs were supposed to be actually implemented, in order to force factories back into this country where they would be staffed by American citizens -- not the immigrants who Trump keeps insisting will be the only ones to get those jobs, in order to keep down labor costs for greedy employers. And if tariffs are to be only a threat, the concessions ought to benefit the working class and Bernie voters here -- not the 1% and other corporate pigs who have already sent so many factories and jobs out of this country.
The outcome is unsurprising -- ever-widening trade deficits. He rarely mentions the trade deficit anymore, and only offers vague promises to do better sometime in the future -- despite month and month, and soon year after year, of his administration fucking it up even worse than it was under Obama.
The partisan mouth-breathers may think that these wary Bernie voters who took a chance on Trump will ignore all of these actions taken to either blow them off or actively alienate them. They think a populist Obama voter is going to trap themselves in post-purchase rationalization since they can't take back their vote.
But if that were true, his approval ratings should have at least remained steady, and if anything gone up since Inauguration -- all the more time for rationalization to kick in, and with all the more anti-populist outcomes that ought to have created the cognitive dissonance needed to spur rationalization. We would see more, not fewer, Bernie surrogates in the media championing the admin's outcomes, or at least making excuses for them, or expressing sincere deeply felt hope.
Instead, his numbers with that side have tanked, and none of them are even expressing hope for things to turn around, let alone fervently defending him against his detractors. What is there to defend? -- putting more corporate rape back into the healthcare sector, intervening in more Middle Eastern conflicts, and announcing tariffs that never get implemented? They may not indulge in the phony Mueller probe bullshit, but they still don't support him overall.
And in the next general election, they won't have to -- Bernie supporters will get to vote for Bernie himself in 2020, rather than take a risk on Trump. The uncertainty of that gamble has been cleared up, and whether they blame Trump personally, the GOP writ large, the conservative media, or whatever else on that side of the political world, they have seen their risky bet fail to pay off. OK, no biggie, they'll just go with the more certain populist choice next time.
This is not to mention the easy dunking that anyone will be able to do on Trump about immigration. No wall, no payment from Mexico, illegal population size unchanged, illegal border crossings exactly where they were during Obama's second term, and so on and so forth. You'd think these criticisms will come from anti-immigration activists, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Bernie campaign uses this as another easy chance to dunk on Trump -- "Not that I actually support those policies, but it's yet another example of their broken promises, failure to deliver the goods, and total fragmentation of their party and administration. They can't get anything done to please their own voters -- only their corporate globalist donors."
Between the demoralized anti-immigration voters on the GOP side, and the "back to Bernie" populists on the Dem side, Trump will have little to show on election day 2020 except for the Republican rationalizers. Again, just ask McCain and Romney how much that army's worth in a nationwide battle.