By now you've seen innumerable stories in the news media in which the reporter visits a hardscrabble town that went heavily for Donald Trump in 2016 — maybe in West Virginia or Ohio or Michigan — and finds that despite the president's troubles, hard-core Trump supporters in their "Make America Great Again" hats are still behind him.
I don't want to talk about those people.
Instead, let's talk about a different set of voters: people I'll call the "What the hell" Trump supporters. It's hard to know exactly how many of them there are, because it's a category not usually captured in polls. But from anecdotes, we can be fairly sure that they were plentiful. They weren't stars-in-their-eyes Trump fans, and they weren't necessarily super-loyal Republicans. They were dissatisfied with the way things were going in the country and didn't think Washington was accomplishing anything. They realized Trump was something of a con man, but they said, "What the hell. Let's give him a shot and see if he can do any better." They didn't think they had much to lose. Maybe it really would make a difference to have a businessman in charge. Maybe he really could use his deal-making prowess to forge solutions to problems that had seemed intractable. Maybe he really could jawbone and bully other countries to give us our jobs back. These voters never thought Trump walked on water. But they decided to give him a chance anyway.
And President Trump may already be losing them.
Consider a Gallup poll that came out on Monday. Among other things, it found ratings of Trump plunging on a variety of measures in the last two months, including whether he "keeps his promises." In February, 62 percent of people said he does; in April it was down to 45 percent. Among people describing themselves as political independents, he went from 59 percent down to 43 percent on that measure.
Maybe it was the failure of the GOP's Affordable Care Act repeal that did it, or maybe it was the general chaos and bumbling around the White House. And of course, maybe it's only temporary — he could bounce back the next time they take a poll. But if you were one of those "What the hell" voters, what you were looking for was results. And so far, you haven't gotten any.
Sure, there have been some executive orders and signatures on a few modest bills, on things like putting more coal ash into streams or attacking Planned Parenthood. But so far, Trump's presidency has hardly been a juggernaut of success.
A Republican might protest that we're only a few months into Trump's term, which is absolutely true. But if people aren't offering him a lot of patience, he has no one to blame but himself. Trump promised miracles: We'd build a wall on the southern border and Mexico would pay for it, all the coal jobs would come back, he'd smack the Chinese around and they'd give us all our manufacturing jobs back, he'd replace ObamaCare with "something terrific" that would offer fantastic coverage yet cost less, ISIS would be vanquished and the world would respect and admire the United States — or as he put it, "We're going to win so much. You're going to get tired of winning."
When you make promises that are so ridiculous they can't possibly be kept, before long people may decide you haven't kept them. And while a campaign is all about creating a compelling vision of the future, a president has to produce right here in the present. You can go to a factory and say you've saved a few dozen or a few hundred jobs, but eventually people will notice that the terrific high-wage jobs you promised them, in their communities, aren't materializing.
That brings us to another problem Trump will have over time. On the campaign trail, he described America as a post-apocalyptic hellscape where unemployment was at 42 percent, crime was at record highs, and we all lived in constant misery. The truth, however, was that unemployment was under 5 percent and crime was near all-time lows. That means that Trump doesn't have a lot of room to improve things, except in ways he's not likely to accomplish.
For instance, the problem isn't that there aren't enough jobs, because there are plenty of jobs. The problems are more complicated, revolving around slowing productivity gains, insufficient wage growth, and a skills gap for the kind of high-paying work that used to be found in factories even for people without a lot of formal education. The only people who think that you can solve those problems with the program Trump is pursuing — little more than tax cuts for the wealthy and the removal of environmental and worker safety regulations — are Republican congressmen who read Ayn Rand in high school and never got over it.
Trump may get much of that program passed in the end, but the chances that it will create all the winning he promised are between slim and none. And since his argument wasn't based on ideology or understanding of policy, he has to produce results. If you're one of those "What the hell" Trump voters, you may have already decided that you gave him his shot, and he blew it.