Media outlets this week are all over a new Pew study that finds, the headlines promise, that President Trump's support is not quite as broad and not quite as happy as his stunningly stable approval rating might suggest.
But what's striking from the numbers, at least as far as I can see, is not how much support Trump has lost but how, given the daily barrage of tweets and countertweets; ugly chants and ugly corruption trials (his campaign chairman); intense criticism in the media; all-out war in Congress; and foreign policy flubs and domestic failures, much remains firm, and how tough he will be to beat.
The Pew study finds that almost 90 percent of men without a college degree feel warmly or very warmly toward Trump after having voted for him in 2016 (they made up 38 percent of Trump voters), as do 83 percent of men with a college degree (who made up 15 percent of the Trump vote). But (I'm not sure how big a "but" this really is) only 77 percent of women voters without a college degree (33 percent of his voters) felt warmly or very warmly in 2018, while 6 percent felt very cold. And among college-educated women, who Trump actually lost to Hillary Clinton and made up 14 percent of his vote, only (only?) 74 percent continue to feel warmly or very warmly toward him (it was 83 percent post-election) and a whopping 14 percent of the 14 percent feel very cold.
The big problem on my side of the aisle these days is that so many people hate Trump so much that they cannot acknowledge his strengths among voters and simply cannot believe he could possibly win. And in this, they are sadly wrong. Not only could Trump win; he probably will if Democrats remain locked in a state of denial. Trump has at least three big advantages.
First and foremost, it's the economy, stupid, as it always is. We are at full employment economy. The market keeps climbing. Sure, the rich are getting richer, and that offends liberal sensitivities, but working — even if you are not getting rich — is better than not working. When the economy slumps, the incumbent gets blamed; when the economy is strong, the incumbent wins. For better or for worse, that is basically how things work.
Second, as my father used to say at the track, you can't beat a horse with no horse. Right now, if you get three Democrats together, they will have at least two, and potentially three, different candidates. And even so, as if to acknowledge the problems, they will still be asking where the next Bill Clinton or Barack Obama is. We didn't know about them in advance, did we? We did. Former President Clinton was the boy wonder of the Democratic Party, the youngest governor in the country. Former President Obama stole the Democratic National Convention with his amazing keynote when he was an Illinois state senator. And Clinton, who ran as a moderate, would have a much more difficult time winning the nomination today than he did in the wake of three straight Democratic losses. That's because, excepting 1992, primaries and caucuses on the Democratic side almost always tilt liberal, which is how Sen. Bernie Sanders came so close to beating Hillary Clinton, and which is why Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be such a strong primary candidate. The primary process is also grueling, a miserable marathon, we called it on bad days, which is why some Democrats worry that Joe Biden, a great vice presidential candidate who might have even beaten Trump the first time, might not get to the finals this time; not only will beating Trump be more difficult but marathons, at least in the past, were not his strong suit.
That brings me to the third reason, which my friends just hate. I'm sorry, Donald Trump may be many things, but he is not stupid. He is not in over his head; he's been swimming along just fine. He is shrewd. You don't get to be president without being shrewd. Blame former FBI Director James Comey, but Trump took some hard hits, too. Looking forward, you might try to convince yourself that the problem was Hillary Clinton, that she lost. I don't see it that way. Clinton fought hard. Trump won. And he could do it again.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)