What a year we have lived through since Donald Trump came out on stage and pledged “to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.” As journalists who have been around this town forever and covered politics for decades, we are constantly asked about the Trump presidency: “Has there ever been anything like this?”
The answer is no. No to everything. There’s never been a president who endlessly litigated the last election -- which he won, by the way. There’s never been a president who had lower approval ratings this early in his term: 37 percent, in the most recent ABC poll. Never has a president called our justice system a “joke” and “a laughingstock.” Never has a president left so many State Department positions unfilled, at a time when crises are erupting around the globe.
And never, of course, has a president set policy on Twitter.
All of the chaos surrounding the constantly churning White House is clearly taking its toll, as the elections this week in New Jersey and Virginia made clear. Voters in those states said, by a 2-to-1 margin, that they were showing up in opposition to the Trump presidency, not in support of it.
And there is much in the ABC poll that would send most presidents scrambling to try to set things straight. Majorities say Trump’s not delivering on his major campaign promises, that he’s not honest and trustworthy, that he’s not a strong leader, that he hasn’t brought needed change and that he doesn’t have the right personality or temperament to be president.
As he makes the rounds in Asia, with North Korea foremost on the agenda, a shocking two-thirds of those polled don’t trust their president to act responsibly in handling that situation.
But instead of trying to fix what’s wrong, Trump rails against the media, the Democrats and the Clintons while proclaiming that he has done more in the time he’s been in office “than any president in history.”
He probably believes that. That’s the part that’s scary. Candide-like, Trump seems to think that because he’s in charge, this must be “the best of all possible worlds.”
When Fox News’ Laura Ingraham recently asked the president about the number of vacancies in the State Department, he replied: “The one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that’s what policy is going to be.”
Some Trump voters now seem to understand that the election was all about him, that he is “the one that matters,” not them. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of “Trump counties,” only 32 percent say the country is better off than when their candidate was elected, and a majority sees no clear agenda coming out of the White House.
So now what? Where do we go from here? Democrats think this head-scratching year works for them -- that by making the next election all about Trump, they can win.
The elections this week certainly give them reason to hope that’s true. But there are some warning signs for Democrats as well. Among those likeliest to vote next year -- people who turned out in the last midterm and say they are certain to do so again -- Democrats and Republicans are dead-even in the ABC survey. Those voters also end up tied over which party best represents their values.
Democrats might be able to upset those numbers by getting more of their core voters to the polls than they usually do in off-year elections. That happened in Virginia, where minorities showed up in much larger numbers than they did in the last two gubernatorial years, and they voted for Democratic candidate Ralph Northam by an overwhelming 80 percent. In New Jersey, it was an even higher 83 percent of the minority vote that went for Democrat Phil Murphy. Both men lost the white vote, and in both cases, it didn’t matter.
But there are still obstacles for the party to overcome. Fewer voters overall -- 27 percent -- trust Democrats in Congress to make the right decisions for the country, compared to a pitiful, but still higher, 34 percent who say the same for Trump.
So no, there’s never been anything like this. The year since Donald Trump was elected has produced a confused and concerned country. And in looking toward the Democrats, many voters don’t see anything that attracts them.
Another chaotic year before the next election could change their minds.