In a recent piece at The Hill, I argue that Trump’s terrible approval ratings for his handling of foreign policy will matter more than most people think.
The basic argument consists of four points:
1. Trump has made foreign policy more important to Americans today thanks to his “America First” approach:
The genius of Trump’s “America First” slogan was the way it allowed Trump to connect foreign and domestic politics under a single populist and nationalist banner. When Trump says he’s protecting American workers, he could be talking about tax cuts, illegal immigration, “horrible trade deals,” or terrorism. Trump’s America First strategy has blurred much of the historical difference between foreign policy and domestic policy. All of this makes foreign policy more important moving forward.
2. Trump’s foreign policy has been historically unpopular:
Not only does Trump suffer lower approval for his handling of foreign policy than all presidents back to Ronald Reagan, but majorities of Americans oppose Trump’s calling card issues. Fifty-eight percent oppose building a wall along the Mexican border and 67% think that illegal immigrants currently living in the United States should eventually be allowed to apply for citizenship. Twice as many Americans (49%) think raising tariffs will hurt the economy as think it will help (25%)…
3. Foreign policy approval feeds into overall presidential approval:
… even though the impact of foreign policy is most obvious during a war or international crisis, it plays a key role in shaping the general narrative of a president’s performance while in office. One analysis, for example, found that public approval of the president’s handling of foreign policy has a larger impact on his overall approval rating than does his handling of the economy.
4. Trump’s net-negative presidential approval ratings signal big trouble for Republicans at the midterms:
Research suggests that Trump’s current 41% approval rating historically would typically result in about an 8-point national advantage in voting for Democrats…. Looking at data from each president’s first midterm elections going back to 1946, the four presidents who did not enjoy a net-positive approval rating saw their party lose an average of 49 seats in the House and 6.5 seats in the Senate.
The bottom line is that Trump’s handling of foreign policy hasn’t done Republicans any favors this year and is likely to be an even bigger problem for Trump himself in 2020.
Thanks to Hannah Kanter for the background research and contributing to the writing of the original commentary.