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Politics

The 24% president

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(LAT)

In one poll after another, the number jumps out: 24%.

That’s the share of Americans who say they can’t imagine anything President Trump could do that would sour them on him, according to a nationwide survey this week by Monmouth University.

Similarly, a CNN poll found 24% of Americans said they trust all or most of what they hear from the White House. A poll by ABC and the Washington Post found 24% who said Trump acts in a presidential manner. A poll by Marist College for National Public Radio and PBS, released Thursday, found that 27% approved of Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va. The same poll found that 20% of those surveyed said they “strongly approve” of the job Trump is doing as president.

That’s Trump’s base — roughly one in four Americans — and it’s pretty solid. As Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson noted this week, if you’ve gotten this far, and you still strongly support Trump, there’s not much that’s likely to change your mind.

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For Trump, that base is also a trap.

Good afternoon, I’m David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in Washington and elsewhere in national politics and highlight some particularly insightful stories.

DIGGING DEEPER, NOT BROADER

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This week displayed Trump’s unbridled id, his refusal to accept criticism and his imperviousness to advice like no other moment of his presidency. One image spoke volumes — the picture of newly minted White House Chief of Staff John Kelly staring at his shoes on Tuesday as Trump angrily insisted that the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Va., included some “very fine people.”

Those remarks came only halfway through a dizzying week of headlines which began with a parade of white supremacists, mostly young men, wending its way through the historic lawn at the University of Virginia, carrying tiki torches, yelling out an English version of an old Nazi chant: “Blood and soil” and, at times, “Jews will not replace us.”

Although Friday night’s parade was mockingly dubbed “Citronellanacht” by some who refused to take the relatively small group of marchers as a serious threat, the situation turned grimmer the next day. White supremacists clashed in violent confrontations with anti-fascist counter-demonstrators while an overmatched small-city police department and Virginia state police struggled to maintain order.

As officials tried to disperse the demonstrators, a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of people, killing one woman and seriously injuring more than a dozen. Two police officers died later in the day when their helicopter, which had been monitoring the demonstrations, crashed while landing.

Trump’s response unspooled over several days.

Saturday afternoon, he ad-libbed an amendment to a prepared statement and declared that “on many sides, on many sides,” people had committed violence. The equivocation stood in sharp contrast to Trump’s handling of previous incidents, which he had quickly labeled as terrorism.

Sunday, White House aides defended Trump’s response as criticism poured in from all corners.

Monday, as the alleged driver of the fatal car was arraigned on second-degree murder charges, the president appeared to give ground, reading a prepared statement that denounced racism and called out hate groups by name. When critics said they doubted Trump’s sincerity, he complained of their unfairness. The next day, he proved them right with his angry, impromptu news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower.

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By Tuesday afternoon, the tycoons that Trump likes to view as peers began abandoning him, quitting his business advisory councils. Trump attacked them as “grandstanders” and insisted many other executives were lined up to replace defectors. By Wednesday, he had no choice but to disband the councils for lack of membership. By the end of that day, the heads of each of the nation’s military services — the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps — had issued formal statements denouncing racism, an extraordinary rebuke of the commander in chief, although they did not mention him by name.

On Thursday, Trump continued to indulge his instinct to counterpunch, firing off angry tweets attacking Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona and congratulating Flake’s likely primary opponent, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who earlier this summer had predicted a quick death for Sen. John McCain from his cancer and suggested that Gov. Doug Ducey appoint her to serve in his place.

As Noah Bierman and I wrote, Trump’s angry outbursts displayed a president who is trapped in a tightening spiral, in which each drop in his support causes him to appeal more fervently to his most ardent backers, costing him more support.

To the extent that his actions involve deliberation, rather than angry instinct, the strategy is to go deep, hoping to energize his base as much as possible. That strategy sufficed for Trump to win last year, barely, over a highly unpopular Democrat, Hillary Clinton. And it’s possible he could win again — no one can predict an election so far in the future.

But whatever the political merits, that approach makes effective governing all but impossible. As Lisa Mascaro wrote, congressional Republicans are increasingly resigned to the fact that the chances of passing their ambitious legislative agenda are evaporating.

Trump’s desire to stoke grievances has repeatedly gotten in the way of his ability to rally support for his nominal priorities. Tuesday’s news conference, for example, had been intended to focus on his infrastructure proposals. Thursday, the White House announced it was abandoning plans to create an infrastructure advisory panel.

And Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, signaled potentially more trouble ahead for Trump. In a speech back home in Chattanooga, Corker questioned Trump’s “stability” and “competence,” loaded words that he repeated least anyone think he had used them by accident.

Just shy of seven months into his term, Trump may already have achieved lame-duck status — able to comment on events, but with little ability to shape them.

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BACKING AWAY FROM A HEALTHCARE FIGHT

Amid the furor over Charlottesville, the administration quietly agreed on Wednesday to continue for now a healthcare subsidy that is widely seen as crucial for the Affordable Care Act. The decision indicated that at least for now, Trump won’t try to deliberately cause Obamacare to “implode,” as he had suggested he would.

The administration had little choice after the Congressional Budget Office reported that cutting off the subsidies would actually cost the government billions more than it would save. The move would also cause some healthcare premiums to soar, the CBO said.

The administration decision to pay this month’s installment of the subsidies, known as cost-sharing reduction payments, brought praise from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chair of the Senate Health Committee. When lawmakers return to work next month, they should quickly pass a limited package of fixes to the healthcare law, he said. But some conservative members of Congress and outside groups quickly dissented, denouncing the payments as a “bailout” for insurance companies.

The conservative opposition underscores the difficulty Alexander and like-minded lawmakers will face in gaining approval for a bipartisan healthcare bill.

OTHER NOTABLE STORIES

For many American Jews, the events in Charlottesville have brought anguish, Mark Barabak and Michael Finnegan wrote.

In Alabama, Trump’s endorsement wasn’t enough for Sen. Luther Strange to win a primary outright; he faces a runoff against former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, Mascaro wrote

Mascaro also took at deep look at the continued influence of the Koch brothers network, which exerts surprising clout at the White House despite their having snubbed Trump during the election year.

Will a trade fight with Asia sabotage the U.S. solar industry? The decision may be up to Trump, no fan of either solar power or China, Evan Halper wrote. The trade case, which the solar power industry sees as a huge threat, has generated an odd coalition of business group and environmentalists defending Chinese imports.

This week, Trump took a preliminary step toward confronting China on intellectual property rights. Jackie Calmes noted that although officials made a big show of the announcement, it doesn’t actually do much.

On another trade front, negotiations over revising NAFTA began this week. Don Lee looked at the complicated trade politics of Trump’s pledge to push “buy American” rules in the talks.

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions attacked Chicago and other “sanctuary’” cities in a speech this week, Joe Tanfani wrote.

CALIFORNIA POLITICS

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher met with Julian Assange in London. Christine Mai-Duc explained why.

California’s GOP candidates for governor must win over the tea party. Here’s how they’re trying, Phil Willon wrote.

Affirmative action has resurfaced in the race for governor; the last time it was prominent, it divided Democrats, Seema Mehta and Melanie Mason wrote.

AND FINALLY

Weed makes strange bedfellows: For the latest evidence, Halper checked out the strange, new alliance between Roger Stone, the Republican bad-boy fixer, and John Morgan, the very wealthy Florida trial lawyer and potential candidate for governor who was one of Clinton’s biggest donors.

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S TWEETS

Twitter has long been Trump’s favored means of pushing his message. We’re compiling all of Trump’s tweets. It’s a great resource. Take a look.

LOGISTICS

That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

If you like this newsletter, tell your friends to sign up.

David.lauter@latimes.com

@davidlauter


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