Pundits eye potential watershed in 2018 elections

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump started office with the lowest popularity ratings of any president in modern American history and his ratings have worsened.

Yet, they mostly reflect the country's partisan divide and do not indicate that he is losing popularity in his own support base.

"His popularity is falling but his base is just as strong," Honolulu- based Liz A. Dorn, a former communications chair of the Republican Party in Hawaii, told The Sunday Times.

Trump supporters say he is doing exactly what they elected him to do - shake up a Washington establishment disconnected from mainstream, conservative and mostly white America.

Mr Trump defeated Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton in the election by a huge margin of 82-14 among voters who wanted a candidate able to bring about change more than anything else, pollster Nate Silver wrote on his blog on Feb 3. "Trump's presidency is variously a stunning success or a threat to the future of the American Republic - or both at once," he wrote.

DEEP DIVIDE

Trump's presidency is variously a stunning success or a threat to the future of the American Republic - or both at once.

POLLSTER NATE SILVER (left), writing in his blog on Feb 3.


STORMY WEATHER AHEAD

There will be a shake-out, and Republicans in areas where Trump did not win or barely won the popular vote, may not see any gain in continuing to support him.

MS LIZ A. DORN, a former communications chair of the Republican Party in Hawaii, predicting a Trump backlash in 2018.

These extreme interpretations of Mr Trump raise the question of whether America can digest the kind of strong medicine he believes in, or whether his gambles - creating jobs, introducing a good healthcare scheme, curbing crime and rolling back progressive legislation on the environment and women's rights - will succeed.

Mr Trump has not built bridges across America's increasingly toxic political divide, which in many cases has left even families avoiding the discussion of politics at the dinner table, for the sake of peace.

The political mood in the country remains rancorous. Mr Trump has only in recent days lambasted a federal judge and alleged that courts "seem to be so political". He also slammed Republican Senator John McCain, and blasted Democrats for holding up the confirmation of his Cabinet nominees.

 On Monday, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said Mr Trump had been "strategically incoherent... incompetent and... reckless".

Regardless of the controversies that have dogged him, his supporters recognise that he appears to be delivering, or trying to deliver, on each of his campaign promises.

Short of Mr Trump being impeached - a remote possibility unless he clearly breaks a law - political pundits are eyeing the November 2018 mid-term elections as a potential watershed.

The Democratic Party, powered by the increased political engagement of its own base, could gain seats in the House and Senate next year and circumscribe the Republicans and the president.

"My bet is on the system and the majority of the American people rejecting him and the 2018 mid- terms being highly contentious," one Washington, DC-based analyst said, asking not to be named.

Ms Dorn, the former Republican operative, predicted a backlash to Mr Trump in 2018, "certainly" from voters but potentially also from within the Republican party.

"There will be a shake-out, and Republicans in areas where Trump did not win or barely won the popular vote, may not see any gain in continuing to support him," she said in a phone interview.

Nirmal Ghosh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'Pundits eye potential watershed in 2018 elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe