If you’re a Republican, the scariest thing that you’ll see this Halloween season is the Fox News poll released this week.
According to the poll, President Trump’s job-approval number dropped four points, from 42 percent to 38 percent, in the last month. It is down 10 points since February. In the last month, it has dropped precipitously, from 68 percent to 56 percent, among white men without a college degree, which is his core group of supporters. Among independents, his job approval rating is now just 30 percent.
OK, are you ready for the bad news now?
Back in the 2010 midterms, the Republicans gained 63 seats in the House, easily recapturing the majority, and picked up six seats in the Senate. It was the biggest mid-term transformation of Congress since 1938. That historic performance had been widely predicted based on polls that asked voters whether they would support an unnamed Republican or unnamed Democrat for Congress. On that so-called generic ballot question that year, Republicans enjoyed a huge, nine-point advantage.
On the generic ballot question this year, the Fox poll gives Democrats a 15-point advantage.
Longer term, the portents for the party are even more disastrous. Among voters aged 45 and younger, 71 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Trump; just 26 percent view him favorably. On the generic ballot question, just 25 percent of younger voters say they intend to vote Republican next year, while 55 percent intend to vote Democratic. In generational terms, we’ve never seen anything like that before.
Once put in place, such party affinities tend to be like tattoos — you can erase them, but the process is costly and painful. And with American politics becoming ever more tribal, and with political identity becoming part of a person’s “brand” among friends and family, that’s probably more true than ever.
As far as I can tell, the Republican strategy to reverse these trends consists of two basic components:
1.) Continue to purge any elements in their party that dare to challenge Trump, such as Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, and replace them with more extreme candidates who pledge unquestioned loyalty to an increasingly unpopular president. It’s as if the GOP is trapped in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend whom nobody else likes or trusts, but instead of trying to get out, its reaction is to tell everyone else to go to hell and to double-down on the relationship.
It is not usually an approach that produces a good outcome.
2.) Pass a major tax-cut plan that will give Republicans something to brag about on the campaign trail. After their disastrous failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, GOP leaders have convinced themselves that they need something to brag about as an accomplishment, and they see a huge tax cut as their only hope. (They also need it to placate their wealthy donors.)
However, that pesky Fox poll again suggests real trouble. It tells us that 78 percent of Americans are “frustrated that the wealthy pay too little in taxes,” and that 85 percent are frustrated by “corporations using loopholes to avoid taxes.” Maybe it’s just me, but building your comeback hopes around a policy that is opposed by eight out of 10 American voters — and by six out of 10 members of your own party — doesn’t sound all that bright.
But as Barack Obama said to Mitt Romney, “please proceed, governor.”