Jennifer Rubin: Trump misses the zeitgeist, again
BY JENNIFER RUBIN
Sunday, February 25, 2018
President Donald Trump rose to the presidency largely on his ability to read and then channel the discontent and resentment of a large number of Americans. While his critics laughed off his declaration that people could say "Merry Christmas" again, he was really making a cultural statement that appealed to white Christians angst-ridden over their loss of economic, political and cultural dominance.
Since becoming president, his political antennae have failed him again and again. Ironically, it is his failure or refusal to read serious shifts in popular consciousness that has gotten him into trouble. The #MeToo movement gained momentum in part as a visceral reaction to the election of an accused sexual predator who bragged about assaulting women. One doesn't need a psychology degree to understand that Trump is incapable of recognizing the cultural shift in attitudes. He therefore repeatedly (e.g. the handling of the Rob Porter controversy, the Roy Moore endorsement) antagonizes not only women and men who now view allegations of abuse very differently from the way he does (or from the way they did even a year or so ago). He has missed the cultural boat, and now pays a political price for it.
The same may be the case on guns, where public opinion seems to be, at least for now, shifting dramatically. The latest poll on guns, this one from CBS News, finds even his own party has moved on the issue:
"Sixty-five percent of Americans now say laws covering the sale of guns should be stricter - an eight-point increase from December. It is the highest number recorded in this poll for stricter gun sale laws. The rise has been primarily among Republicans and independents, with a large increase among Republicans from last December.
"Support among Republicans has soared from 29 to 43 percent since December. Moreover, 'Forty-one percent of Republicans say they would follow Mr. Trump if he supported stricter laws, but most of these Republicans already favor stricter gun sale laws to begin with.' "
Trump gets rotten marks for his reaction to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, with only 33 percent approving of his handling of the massacre in which 17 were slaughtered by an AR-15-wielding gunman.
By a 50 percent to 44 percent margin, voters disapprove of teachers carrying guns, an idea that Trump and the National Rifle Association have been pushing. Support for banning so-called bump stocks (56 percent to 38 percent), banning the AR-15 (53 percent to 44 percent) and support for more spending on mental health (87 percent to 10 percent) runs high with voters. The NRA would do well to stay out of sight: A strong 46 percent think the organization has too much influence.
As with the #MeToo movement and to some extent the "dreamers," corporate America is much more sensitive to shifts in public/customer opinion than many politicians. On guns, Enterprise Holdings (which owns Enterprise, Alamo and National car rental companies) and First National Bank of Omaha, the country's biggest privately owned bank, have ended special promotions for NRA members.
Trump has always been a cultural dinosaur, as if his understanding of America was permanently fixed in the 1980s. That allowed him to understand the thinking of aging white working-class males (the so-called Reagan Democrats) but remain oblivious in big ways and small (suggesting that we need a ratings system for videos and movies, as if we didn't have one already that has been the subject of robust debate). Beyond his niche audience/political base, he appears clueless or even hostile toward cultural changes roiling the country. (He not only does not believe female accusers, other than Bill Clinton's, but also he evinces resentment that men's careers can be damaged by complaints of abuse.)
It remains to be seen whether the shift against untrammeled access to military-style weapons is permanent, and whether it can overcome the political clout of the NRA and its one-issue voters. Nevertheless Trump, as he is with the subject of sexual abuse and harassment, risks antagonizing millions of voters - and motivating them to go to the polls.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.