President Trump’s Meeting with Putin and John McCain’s Negative Reaction Aren’t Hurting Him Among Republicans

President Donald Trump has come under fire this week not only from Democrats, but also, from Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the way he handled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. The 81-year-old McCain was furious with Trump, accusing him of cozying up to an “autocrat” and a “tyrant” while undermining the U.S.’ relationship with its long-time NATO allies. Trump, in fact, denounced Trump’s meeting with Putin as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” But if a new CBS News poll is any indication, Trump’s popularity among Republicans and his hardcore base isn’t suffering at all.


The poll, conducted July 17 and 18, has some news that the Democratic Party will like and some it won’t like. According to CBS News, only 32% of Americans approve of the way Trump handled the summit with Putin. And a mere 8% of the Democrats polled by CBS News approve. But here’s the part the Democratic National Committee (DNC) definitely won’t like: CBS News also found that 68% of Republicans—slightly more than two-thirds—approve of the way Trump handled the summit.


The takeaway: while Trump is unpopular with the general population in the U.S., he continues to be quite popular with his base and registered Republicans. Trump is wildly unpopular in major cities like New York, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, Baltimore and Los Angeles; anti-Trump rallies, marches and demonstrations in Democrat-dominated Philadelphia are the norm. But among the GOP base—older, mostly white, conservative and more likely to live in a red state—he polls favorably. And criticism from McCain doesn’t carry a lot of weight with the alt-right and the Breitbart crowd because they regard the long-time senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee as a “cuckservative,” which is the alt-right’s favorite insult for a right-winger they believe isn’t right-wing enough.


Among white evangelicals—an important part of the Republican base—Trump polls well. A Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted in March found that among that demographic, Trump enjoyed 75% approval. And in recent Gallup tracking polls, Trump’s approval among Republicans has been hovering around 90% compared to the 42-45% range among the general population.

For the Democratic Party, that 90% is bad news because the Republican base is generally much better at voting in midterms than the Democratic base. White Republican voters who are 50, 55 or older have a lot of bad, wrong-headed ideas, but they vote consistently—and the vast right-wing media (from Fox News to AM talk radio to Townhall and the National Review) is great at driving turnout. Never underestimate the ability of a Republican voter who is 60, white, male, diabetic, poor and employed at a dollar store in Waco or Topeka to show up at the polls every time and vote for GOP candidates who would love to overturn the Affordable Care Act, abolish food stamps and privatize Medicare and Social Security.


The worst thing the Democratic Party could do, going into the November midterms, is underestimate how determined and focused Republican voters can be. Trump is their guy, and Republican voters are great at showing up at the polls in midterms—which is why Republicans were able to retake the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. Even though President Obama was reelected decisively in 2012, Democrats lost the Senate two years later.


The U.S. is seeing very passionate disdain for Trump in heavily Democratic areas and passionate support for him in places that are more Republican; there is considerable passion on both sides, but what happens in November will be a matter of who actually shows up to vote and whether Republicans or Democrats do a better job of mobilizing and energizing their base.


The 2018 midterms will come down to turnout above all else, and as CBS News’ poll on the Helsinki summit demonstrates, Republican voters still like Trump a lot.

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