Donald Trump is a below-average politician

Published December 22, 2022

By Alexander H. Jones

The traditional arbiter of elite conservative opinion, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, is taking a lead mallet to the politics of Donald Trump. Most recently, former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove plainly stated that a Republican Party loyal to Trump will “lose and lose and lose.” The Journal is hardly the Bulwark, or another NeverTrump venture founded to oppose the Orange Autocrat. Instead, it’s a long-loyal outlet that’s begun to channel the disgust with Trump among Republicans who know what they’re doing.

This isn’t just about elite right-of-center opinion makers. From donors to strategists to lobbyists on K Street, top Republicans seem to have reached the limits of their patience for the erratic ignoramus they long tolerated in return for a trillion-dollar tax cut. Why? Cold calculation. For the fact is that Donald Trump has cost Republicans their expected victories two straight elections, following on a cataclysmic 2019 midterm in which the party’s struggles flowed from Trump’s toxicity. Finally, after seven years, Republican panjandrums are acting on the knowledge that Trump is bad for their party.

Because of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton, a myth has long persisted of some secret political genius lurking within Trump’s persona. This, however, is not supported by an evaluation of Trump’s political record. Trump has lost the popular vote in two presidential elections. In both races, he garnered a lesser vote share than Republican Congressional candidates, suggesting that he lacks savvy compared to more traditional Republican politicians. This inference gains strength when one considers that Trump has never managed to raise his approval rating above the level of 45%. Clearly, the old authoritarian lacks any understanding of how to build a national majority.

He also misreads the electorate. Deeply simpatico with his populist base, the former president assumes that all “real” Americans share the Trump movement’s obsessions and grievances. Following that instinct, Trump endorsed a slate of far-right populists suited to his political diet hate and rage. In six separate states, these candidates lost major contests for Senate, governor, or secretary of state. In formerly red Arizona, MAGA warriors lost all three posts.

Trump bases his endorsements and political strategy on a false reading of public opinion because he knows nothing about the country. This man entered politics more ignorant of almost everything than any presidential-level politician in American history. What he “knows” about politics derives almost entirely from what he’s gleaned while watching Fox News, a network whose product is ideally suited to uneducated white seniors but is deeply unappealing to other Americans. Thus, he operates–or Fights!–in the political arena armed with a mental repertoire faux knowledge and deeply skewed priors about the nature of American life.

And the American people have rejected this package of Fox propaganda and personal grievance. While 35% of the country will always be unshakably tied to Trump and MAGA, a working majority of Americans does not believe Trump Republicans should govern the country. Trump is a politician of below-average talent, and in a country fiercely divided with few voters in between, there will be limits to how long elites are willing to fall in line behind a failure.