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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.

Go deeper:

Editor's Note: Sign up for Axios newsletters to get our Smart Brevity delivered to your inbox every morning.

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Go deeper

Updated 46 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

2 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

2 hours ago - World

UAE asks U.S. to reinstate Houthi terrorist designation after attack

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (left) listens to United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a joint news conference at the State Department iin October. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed asked Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call Monday to re-designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, a senior Emirati official told Axios.

Why it matters: Less than a month after he assumed office, President Biden rolled back the Trump administration’s decision to make the designation. He said it hampered humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. Since then, the Houthis have escalated their attacks against Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region — including an attack Monday in Abu Dhabi.