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Politics

Like it or not, Democrats, Trump is on a roll

David Ignatius on

WASHINGTON -- The agonizing fact for Democrats this summer is that President Trump appears to be gaining ground on domestic and foreign policy, while his potential challengers are quarreling and mostly spinning their wheels.

Trump is defying Congress, taunting allies and ignoring court rulings he doesn't like -- and seemingly getting away with it. Thursday's anticipated executive order adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, defying a rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts, is the latest example.

Trump isn't just rewriting the political rulebook, he's tossing it aside. And the painful fact is that the Democrats haven't figured out a way to stop his forward momentum, even when they believe it's taking the country over a cliff.

Trump remains a divisive and unpopular leader who is vulnerable in 2020. But a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last weekend was the clearest warning yet for Democrats that Trump is gaining strength beyond his core base of support.

Trump's approval rating has risen 5 points since April, to 44%, according to the Post-ABC News survey. His disapproval rating is 53%, but his support is still the highest he's had as president. The RealClearPolitics average of major polls shows a similar trend.

Trump would probably be doing even better if so many people weren't turned off by his crass behavior. Commentator Steve Rattner recently noted the gap between the 56% predicted support for an incumbent with this record, as modeled by Yale economist Ray Fair, and Trump's much lower actual support in polls.

 

Trump's best issue is the economy. Last week's employment report showed sharp job growth, led by manufacturing. There are caveats: The distribution of rewards is grossly unequal, and growth has been pumped by deficit spending. There are signs of weakness ahead, too, but even The New York Times Editorial Board agrees with Trump that the Federal Reserve should cut interest rates, perhaps extending the recovery longer.

Trump anti-immigrant policies are appalling, but they don't seem to be costing him politically. The Democrats, in their indignant response, have moved so far toward what critics argue is a policy of open borders that they may unintentionally make this issue a net winner for Trump.

Trump's foreign policy has been a disruptive megaphone, with little real success to show, but here again, he gets away with it. His approach has become predictable: He threatens fire and fury, imposes economic sanctions, and then starts bargaining a deal that produces only modest gains. That's been the case so far with North Korea, China and Mexico -- and it's probably where Trump wants to head with Iran.

If you were to do a cost-benefit analysis of Trump's foreign policy, the damage he's done to allies would far outweigh any gains against potential adversaries. But Trump doesn't pay the cost because, for all his belligerent "America First" talk, he's avoiding new wars and says he wants to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan.

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