President Donald Trump wasn't elected because people thought he was a nice guy. He was elected because people thought he would explode the political system -- inflicting real and lasting damage to it. He would stick to the "elites" and stand up for the average Joe.
Which is why this quote -- in a terrific story by Patricia Mazzei about how the government shutdown is impacting a Florida town -- is so telling and terrifying for Trump as he looks to his 2020 reelection race: "I voted for him, and he's the one who's doing this," Crystal Minton, a 38-year-old secretary said of Trump. "I thought he was going to do good things. He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting."
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He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.
Wow. There's so much in that quote worth unpacking.
Built into it is the idea -- as I noted above -- that lots and lots of people voted for Trump not because they thought he was some exemplary guy but because they were sick and tired of feeling taken advantage of or condescended to (or both) by the elites in this country. Trump might look like one of those elites -- raised in a wealthy family in New York City, educated at private schools, a billionaire -- but the "in" crowd had never accepted him either. That he looked like one of the elites but fought for the average guy was at the root of Trump's appeal. (I wrote about this extensively earlier in the week.)
The 2016 exit polling bears this all out. Just 1 in 3 voters said that Trump was honest and trustworthy. Only 38% thought he was qualified to be president. Less -- 35% -- thought he had the right temperament to be president. These are the numbers of a losing candidate EXCEPT that voters cared more about one thing more than all of Trump's less-than-attractive personal traits: Change. Of the 4 in 10 who said a candidate's ability to bring about change mattered most in their vote, Trump won more than 80% of the vote.
Trump's entire value proposition then as he looks to 2020 is to prove to voters that he promised to give the political class a rough time -- and that he did exactly that. He stuck it to those pencil-pushing bureaucrats! He stood up to the media bullies and called them out on their "fake news!" And he told Republican elected officials that they'd better get on board or run the risk of getting run over!
When Trump runs into trouble it is if his bull-in-a-china-shop routines starts producing collateral damage among the very people who voted for him because they thought he would protect them from the encroaching elites. It's fun to watch someone destroy a world you hate. It's much less fun when it's your world that's being dismantled.
The idea that Trump isn't punishing the people who deserve to be punished -- in the eyes of his supporters -- is the real danger that this prolonged government shutdown poses to him. While the prevailing wisdom is that most of the people who are hurt by the shutdown are Democrats anyway, Mazzei's story paints a far more nuanced picture of the whose hurt -- and why. And it's far from only Democrats.
It's easy sometimes, amid the back-and-forth messaging wars of the two parties, to lose sight of the fact that when the government shuts down for 18 days (and counting), it has real world impacts that last far longer, cut more deeply and are far more nuanced than many people in Washington's permanent political class realize.
This shutdown is influencing the way at least some people who supported him are now seeing Trump. And not in a good way for the President and his hopes of winning a second term in 2020.
Remember: If Donald Trump isn't a fighter for the working man, then he's just a schoolyard bully. And no one likes a schoolyard bully.