Perfect is as perfect does.
I’ve tried and I’m still trying, but I confess I’ve never fully grokked how Donald Perfect Trump came to occupy the office of Washington and Lincoln. I understand the vagaries of the Electoral College pretty well, but the power of Trumpian tweets and Russian bots and Facebook users much less.
But that stuff is a small part of the explanation necessary for me to understand how this cruel, vain, ignorant, greedy egomaniac acquired and continues to enjoy the unflinching support of about 40 percent of Americans, as measured by approval ratings.
I tell myself that 40 isn’t a good approval rating. It isn’t. It’s bad, but not historically awful for a president, especially one who so frequently flaunts his least approvable qualities. The unusual, almost creepy thing about Trump’s support is that it essentially never goes up or down much. In fact, you might not (or might, if you’ve been paying attention) know that Trump’s approval number, as measured by FiveThirtyEight’s average of many polls, is up slightly but noticeably over the past week.
That wasn’t just any week. It was the week sentient Americans became aware of new evidence of the bottomless depths of the Trumpian conscience. The evidence was contained in his uncontroverted and sadly all-too-believable effort to use the power and leverage of his office to enlist the leader of a desperate nation to dig up dirt on the son of one of his potential 2020 opponents.
Of course you know the basic facts from better sources than me. Trump put a hold on some scheduled U.S. military aid that Ukraine needs to protect itself from Russia. Then, in a phone call, during which Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hoped to press Trump to get that aid moving, Trump changed the subject several times in several ways to ask Zelensky to have his government look into Ukrainian business transactions of Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the possibility that the senior Biden had improperly used his influence (back when he was vice president) to help the son’s allegedly illicit actions, charges that would obviously be damaging to the current leading Democratic candidate.
I don’t know if it was a high crime or misdemeanor, but the call stinks. It was a disgraceful abuse of office. It shows thuggish, bullying character that Americans should be ashamed to see coming from their president. And it represents a clear effort to use tax dollars to extort illicit political opposition research from a foreign government. It shows a quite possibly impeachable-level abuse of his presidential powers to help himself politically.
Trump cannot seem to grasp how anyone could think there was anything wrong in anything he said. At least he acts like he can’t grasp it. In fact, he constantly refers to the call as “perfect,” including the bits where he appears to attach giving Ukraine the defense funds that he, Trump, had put on hold, to getting Zelensky’s help in digging up Biden dirt.
He doesn’t say that he might have been misunderstood by Zelensky, and that he can see how some people might think it would be better not to say anything that could possibly be misunderstood as seeking to leverage foreign aid for oppo research.
But no. “Perfect.” He didn’t say it once. He says it every time he talks about the call. He’s proud of it. “Perfect.” He can’t imagine how anyone could have handled it any better. “Perfect.” Anyone who sees it differently can choose between two descriptions, “fake news,” or “witch hunt.”
One example from a Trump tweet:
If that perfect phone call with the President of Ukraine Isn’t considered appropriate, then no future President can EVER again speak to another foreign leader!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2019
Is he really that stupid, or is he just confident that his supporters are?
Trump sees something in the loyalty of his base that is quite possibly correct but that I can’t fully wrap my head around. He once famously bragged that his supporters are so loyal that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”
If anyone I supported ever said this, they would lose my support. I take a dim view of egomania and megalomania in my presidents.
But in fact, Trump appears to be correct. As regular readers of this space know, I obsessively check Trump’s approval ratings, perhaps because I cannot believe that while they’re bad, they never change, no matter what he does or says.
A month ago, when I last updated my occasional series on Trump’s amazingly unchanging approval, I thought I saw evidence that the tide might be turning. Anyway, when I wrote that last update, Trump was down a few points to a 13-percentage negative gap in his then most recent approval/disapproval numbers according to the average of polls maintained by FiveThirtyEight.
But I was wrong.
In the month since then, including especially the past week when the Ukraine/Biden/”perfect” phone call has been dominating the national news and fueling the Democrats’ move to impeach him, Trump’s FiveThirtyEight average approval rating has improved, very slowly but steadily, a tenth of a point or two at a time, from 41.0 percent on September 10 to 42.8 percent on Friday.
If you are open to the belief that Trump’s conduct in this matter was “perfect,” I pass along below an interview, between Republican Rep. and Trump loyalist Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, who at least had the gumption to show up and defend Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper yesterday.
I give Jordan credit for showing up, but not much more. He was unable to acknowledge the basic facts, which are now quite well established, and simply refused to engage with any of the inconvenient questions raised by Tapper.
Tapper, I thought, was solid and pretty aggressive without crossing the objectivity boundaries imposed by his job. Jordan believes that both Joe and Hunter Biden did a lot of bad stuff but was all see-no-evil about anything untoward in Trump’s beyond-doubt multiple requests to Zelensky to dig up dirt on the Bidens. Jordan didn’t really dispute that fact, he just refused to engage, changing the subject whenever Tapper tried to give him a chance to respond to the key problem with Trump’s conduct.
It ends with Tapper, giving up trying and saying:
“President Trump was pushing the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival I cannot believe that that is okay with you. I can’t believe it’s okay with you.”
And a last note on Trump’s self-admiration of his “perfect” call, just so you don’t think I’m the only that notices how committed he is to that description of his exchange with the Ukrainian president. It comes from Maureen Dowd’s column of Friday, headlined “Impeaching the peach one,” in which Dowd has an exchange with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about Pelosi’s most recent exchange with Trump. Says Pelosi to Dowd:
“My conversation with the president was one in which he said the phone call was perfect and he couldn’t wait until I saw it because it was perfect. It wasn’t perfect.”
She’s a cool customer, that speaker. Inclined to understatement. But she got this right. It wasn’t perfect.