Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 in part because the public hated his opponents more than him. Under the pall of the Russia probe he fell in polls for years. Then the probe fell apart, and Trump rose again. Heading into the week of the 2020 election, Trump’s approval rating was near his personal all-time high, approaching 45%.
But the frenetic months-long period that followed, between Election Night and the disaster of January 6th, dropped him down to 33%. The wounds were self-inflicted. Even faithful supporters abandoned Trump, saying he sounded delusional, like a parody of his hyperbolic campaign persona — “like the act broke,” is how one congressional Republican put it to me. From the bizarre “most important speech I’ve ever made” address of December 2nd, 2020, in which Trump obsessed over his case like a late-state Lenny Bruce (repeatedly pointing at a chart showing an early-morning surge in votes) to the infamous “tremendous number of dead people that voted” call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, to the exchange that gave Mike Pence his short-lived campaign slogan, “You’re too honest,” Trump looked like a man who’d not only lost an election, but his mind. It seemed inconceivable he’d ever be a viable politician again.
Now, after the Colorado Supreme Court jolted the country with a 4-3 decision effectively removing him from the state’s presidential ballot, Donald Trump has — improbably, shockingly — regained nearly all the political capital he lost in January 2021. It’s the most amazing comeback story since the Buffalo Bills won the Frank Reich game, and I’m not talking about Trump. The rally-cappers here are Biden Democrats, who’ve come from laps behind to overtake Trump in the race to find the illiberal bottom of American politics. This would be amazing to watch, if not for the fact that in this particular contest, the audience loses no matter who wins the game.
Poll-wise Trump really is above where he was in November, 2020, at 46% and trending upward. More importantly he’s back in the luxurious position in which he’s so often found himself throughout most of the last seven years, sitting back and waiting for opponents in the political establishment to pee up their legs. The Colorado move was so brazen that even Jonathan Chait, as faithful a devotee to goofball anti-Trump schemes as we’ve had in media, author of the infamous PRUMP TUTIN New York cover story suggesting Trump turned Russian agent in 1987, said the disqualification effort went “too far.”
The New York Times published a poll showing Trump’s 50-point lead over Republican rivals widening, and that narrow 46-44 edge over Joe Biden holding. This is a sign, the paper said, that “the array of charges against Mr. Trump so far do not appear to be helping Mr. Biden politically,” and “reservations about Mr. Biden are undercutting concerns about Mr. Trump’s criminality.” Outlets like NBC and The Daily Beast are running pieces full of quotes from named and unnamed sources in the Biden camp, as well as from Trump’s ostensible Republican rivals, about what a gigantic fuckup the disqualification bid has been. John Morgan, a “key fundraiser” for Biden, told Reuters “Trump is celebrating,” and forecasted a “fundraising bonanza.” David Axelrod tweeted the decision will serve as “battery packs” for Trump in the GOP primary. “It’s a huge advantage,” a “source close to Nikki Haley” told the Beast.
That’s how badly has the Colorado move played: Trump is being portrayed as a winner in media outlets that still think the Steele dossier is real. The news moreover plays to Trump’s strengths on the stump. Not so great when losing, he’s a world-class gloater. “We talk about democracy,” he quipped this week, “but the whole world is watching the persecution of a political opponent. That’s kicking [Biden’s] ass.”
The Colorado ruling returns us to the pattern that’s held during most every period apart from J6 in the last seven years, in which Trump’s political career has served as an uncanny barometer of public attitudes toward the Beltway establishment. When they go up, he goes down, but when they go down — hoo, boy.
We’ve seen this before. Go back to January 17th, 2019, when Buzzfeed published, “President Trump Directed His Attorney To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project.” The report not only claimed Trump planned a trip to Russia in early 2016 to “personally meet Vladimir Putin” and jump-start a Trump Tower project, but that he “instructed [Cohen] to lie” to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the plan.