Another problem for a lame-duck president is that exhaustion sets in. It’s the seven-, or in some cases, three-, year itch, as someone who was a fresh and exciting face at the start of his term has become tired, boring, or irksome. Trump benefited from his outsize media personality during the campaign, but now he’s paying for it. Barely a day goes by without a new Trump-involved controversy. The public, and even the journalists paid to care, have become numb. Some of Trump’s aides and allies want him to take a less public approach, but that’s beyond him. He has one mode: on, and public-facing. Just take his alleged vacation over the last week or two, which has produced a surfeit of presidential news even by Trump standards.
As a result, most—though not all—presidents see a slow slide in their approval rating toward the end of their terms. Trump’s presidency has been one long slide, with his numbers now resting in the mid-30s.
The Trump presidency keeps offering occasions on which people ask how long the status quo can possibly continue. I have wondered that, and Erick Erickson does today:
This is not sustainable. Something is going to have to give. I do not know what, but something will give. The nation cannot sustain this constant state of chaos and crisis drift for three and a half more years. We will either see external or internal forces applied that will hurt the nation.
But thinking about Trump as a lame duck who will just have to stumble through the rest of his presidency makes more sense, at least at the present moment, than expecting that Trump will be removed from office, whether by resignation, impeachment, or some more far-flung possibility. The president shows little sign of being the sort of person who could be forced into resigning—after all, after he was bullied by staff into condemning racism, he was so agitated that the following day he defended the Charlottesville marchers with a more strongly worded statement.
Impeachment remains a remote possibility, even with 40 percent of voters favoring it in a new Public Religion Research Institute poll. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is likely months, if not years, away from concluding with any charges or referrals. And the hope of some other solution—from a 25th Amendment removal to a military coup—is, as I wrote earlier this week, both dangerous and unrealistic. Meanwhile, negative partisanship guarantees that a durable partisan equilibrium persists. Even after the backlash to Trump’s comments Tuesday, including from many staunch conservatives, two-thirds of Republicans now say they back Trump’s comments.
Instead, Trump will have to muddle through, no doubt with the accent on “mud.” Are there ways that presidents can fight their way back to relevance once relegated to the duck pond? It’s difficult, though not impossible. Barack Obama, for example, faced some notable defeats late in his term—most importantly, he was unable to get his nominee for a Supreme Court seat confirmed—but he also put together a long list of real (if fragile) achievements.