The first poll after the killing of Soleimani shows 53 percent of Americans disapproving of Trump’s handling of Iran, a number similar to what other polling registered in September and October. What has changed is that 39 percent “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s policy—a number up 10 points since before the Soleimani killing. Americans do not want war with Iran, and they do not trust Trump to lead such a war if it erupts.
Trump’s governance itself is legally in question right now. The president has been impeached. Unlike the Clinton impeachment of 1998–99, this process commands the approval of a majority of Americans. On average, more than 50 percent believe the Senate should remove Trump from office. That’s not sufficient to force the Senate to respond, especially not a Senate majority that itself was elected with the support of only a minority of Americans. But it’s certainly sufficient to deprive the president of the legitimacy to lead the nation to war.
The United States finds itself in the dangerous situation of having a president in power but without authority.
He is the least trusted president in the history of polling. Two-thirds of Americans regard him as dishonest. Sixty-one percent say he does not respect democracy.
With the departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the end of 2018, there is no figure left in the administration who does command broad respect from the public, Congress, or American allies—who can credibly step forward and say, “This time, the president is not lying.”
Even the White House press secretary has given up. Unlike her two predecessors, who lied to the media’s face, the current holder of the office, Stephanie Grisham, has abandoned press briefings entirely.
The president, any president, is both the leader of his party and a representative of the entire nation. As the nation polarizes, it becomes harder and harder to combine those roles. But unlike his predecessors, Trump has never tried to do the second job. Even as he sought support from Democrats in Congress, the president retweeted one of his most provocative supporters equating Democrats in Congress to Iranian terrorists. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, ever more brazenly campaigning to replace Vice President Mike Pence on the Republican 2020 ticket, gave an interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show in which she said nobody except Democratic Party leaders and presidential candidates mourned the death of Qassem Soleimani. (Meanwhile, one of the president’s strongest supporters in the Senate, Rand Paul, and one of Trump’s favorite TV hosts, Tucker Carlson, actually spoke out in opposition to the strike.)
David A. Graham: The Iranian humiliation Trump is trying to avenge
Trump supporters are trying to re-create the atmosphere of 2003, to claim the high ground of patriotism and defense of the nation. That can never work for them, because at every turn they and the country confront the weird hold Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems to hold over the U.S. president. Trump defenders angrily denounce the facts of the Trump-Putin connection as a “hoax,” but the country does not believe them. As of mid-summer 2019, only 35 percent of voters accepted the president’s claims of “exoneration.” A majority believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump; a plurality believe that Trump colluded with that effort.