The unspeakable Marc Thiessen poses this question: “How can a president as successful as Donald Trump be so unpopular?”
Mr. Thiessen, apparently, is not speaking ironically or with tongue in cheek. For him, the unpopularity of the highly successful Donald Trump is almost an unfathomable mystery.
Almost unfathomable, but not quite.
[U]ltimately, what makes it impossible for many Americans who approve of Trump’s policies to also approve of Trump’s presidency is his failure to definitively reject and ostracize the bigots who inhabit the fever swamps of the alt-right. …
Trump’s failure to reject the bigots of the alt-right not only tars his presidency, it also tars his supporters. The overwhelming majority of people who voted for Trump are not racists. They are good, decent, patriotic Americans who were sick and tired of being ignored by the political establishments of both parties in Washington. They had legitimate grievances that were not being addressed, from the opioid crisis to an economy that was not giving them the chance to work and pursue lives of dignity. Trump’s election finally gave them a voice. But his failure to condemn the alt-right allows his critics to dismiss his supporters’ valid concerns and lump them in with the tiny minority of bigots who have embraced the president.
His failure to condemn the alt-right has also prevented him from expanding his support beyond his core supporters. With his record, he should be winning over millions of Americans who did not vote for him in 2016 but whose circumstances have markedly improved under his presidency. Instead, his support is stagnant and his disapproval numbers are growing. He would gain far more supporters by rejecting alt-right bigots than he would lose.
Thiessen is absolutely wrong in failing to recognize racism as key to Trump support. (And he’s wrong on other things as well.) But he’s absolutely right in recognizing that Trump’s extremism is self-destructive—mainly because it forces people like Thiessen, who would love to look the other way and ignore the overt racists in their party, to risk their place at the country club if they continue to support Trump.