The Sunday Magazine

The Democrats will need to try something new to stop Trump, says professor

Despite mounting scandals, support for Donald Trump remains high among his base. Michael Enright speaks with Yale professor David Bromwich why his supporters remain fiercely loyal, and why those who oppose his presidency appear to be failing in their efforts to discredit him.
U.S. President Donald Trump tosses a report during his speech at a campaign rally at the Ford Center on Aug. 30, 2018 in Evansville, Indiana. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Welcome to Part One of The Swamp, a special series on The Sunday Edition leading up to the U.S. midterm elections. 

Despite mounting scandals, investigations, guilty pleas and criminal convictions of his associates, U.S. President Donald Trump's national approval rating remains in the low 40s — not much lower than that of President Obama at around the same point in his presidency.

In the Republican Party, about 90 per cent approve of his performance.

Signage depicting President Donald Trump is seen outside the Ford center prior to a rally, Aug. 30, 2018, in Evansville, Indiana. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Those who disapprove of Donald Trump alternate between horror and despair at what they view as the degradation of the America's highest office. They are confounded that so many of their fellow citizens continue to cheer him on.

On Nov. 6, we'll learn how much that support has grown or waned in the midterm elections.

All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. The midterms have traditionally been seen as a referendum on the party in power. This time, they're being viewed as America's verdict on Trumpism.

To understand that fierce loyalty, and how his political opponents might make a dent in it in the lead-up to the midterms, Michael Enright spoke with David Bromwich, professor of English at Yale University who has written extensively about U.S. politics.

How people opposed to Trump underestimate him

"Trump has great charismatic power. He is a good speaker, if you can ignore the content. But just listen to the way he talks to his audience. They're very firmly in his grasp. He enjoys speaking; he has enthusiasm and the crowd shares his enthusiasm. That's one of the reasons he won the election of 2016. Hillary Clinton did not have those gifts. He connects with his crowd and his crowd turned out to be — not a majority of the voters, but enough of them spread out over the country, to win the electoral college."

Why he believes the media has crossed the line

"The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post are all taking a new posture towards the president, of resolute and unconcealed opposition, as if they're fighting for the life of America. This makes one more danger for the continuity of the American republic. Newspapers have to cherish and adhere to their own ethic of responsibility and objectivity. When they give that up, the question arises, how are we going to get it back?"

What strategy he believes the Democrats should adopt to stop Trump

"They have to come up with a candidate who has leader-like qualities, but who also has also the decency, the rational self-restraint and the ability to explain complex things. Those are the very qualities that Trump lacks.

I think they should run as the party of constitutional respect, legitimacy even constitutional piety. And they should avoid divisive gestures and rhetoric, such as the constant reiteration of the phrase 'white people', or 'angry white men.' It may be that America is racist to a greater degree than Obama having been twice elected would suggest, but you can actually say lots of things in favour of expanded rights for black people. But if you start using, as a pejorative phrase, 'white people' ... Well, there are one hell of a lot of Americans who are still white. They're not going to change. And when they hear that, they may have to grit their teeth to vote for you. The party has to start being more farseeing and prudent."

Why he thinks Democrats should not focus on attacking Trump

"That's what Hillary Clinton did in 2016. The whole emphasis of her campaign was, 'I am not Trump. I am the opposite of Trump. It's unimaginable that you would want to vote for Trump therefore vote for me.' It didn't work once and it very well could not work again."

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview. Tune in to The Sunday Edition on September 23 for Part Two of The Swamp, a special series about the upcoming U.S. midterm elections.