Trump's winning, cynical plan

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

An odd paradox in defining this moment in politics: The more President Trump does, says and tweets outrageous things, the more his critics go bananas and the better he does in the polls. 

The big picture: Our parallel universes are spinning farther apart. The coverage (and much of the reality) is a White House in chaos, and an erratic president improvising as his own policy adviser, chief of staff, comms director and tweeter-in-chief.

Tune into Twitter, and you'd think the entire civilized world has turned against him. And yet:

  • Gallup has Trump's approval at a new high since the beginning of his presidency: 45%. That's roughly the same as others at this point: Barack Obama (46%), Bill Clinton (46%), Ronald Reagan (45%) and Jimmy Carter (43%).
  • Support among Republicans is 90% in Gallup, also a high.
  • Among independents, he's up to 42% — tied for his personal best, and only the fourth week in his presidency that he has been at 40% or above.
  • Trump's attacks on Mueller are working, too: The special counsel has a 53% unfavorable rating in Morning Consult polling — a new high, and a whopping 26-point spike since July of 2017

Trump thinks he has found a winning formula, his advisers tell Axios. And he might be right:

  • The more he trashes Mueller, and the more he trashes the media and the media trashes him, the more Republicans want to have his back.
  • And the more casual viewers see everything like the Russia probe as messy and muddy, not just Trump.
  •  Our politics are becoming ever more tribal, and his voters are numb to the outrageousness.
  • It's arguably the most cynical strategy imaginable. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful politically. 

Be smart: The rise in Trump’s numbers, and the shrinking Democratic advantage in House races, are reinforcing Trump’s worship of his own instincts on policy.

  • Except many of these choices may make his reelection even more dependent on his worshipful base, and less appealing to swing voters.
  • It’s a circular political strategy that relies on ignoring independent voters, and assuming they won’t turn out.
  • It creates a narrow, treacherous path to reelection.

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