Early Returns

Do Republicans Want to Fight the Good Fight?

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Not the same.

Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Pool//Getty Images

I had some points about polling I wanted to make, but I suppose it's necessary to instead make a few simple points about the Charlottesville events and the president's defense of bigots. Nothing too original, but it seems like one of those events where it's necessary to speak up.

First: Of course we should not be honoring Confederates, for two perfectly obvious reasons. First of all, regardless of anything else, they were traitors to the United States of America. And second of all, as Jamelle Bouie tweeted (read the whole thread, and his longer piece here; see also a good item from my Bloomberg View colleague Ramesh Ponnuru):

Second: The idea that there's a slippery slope from taking down monuments to Robert E. Lee to doing the same for George Washington or Thomas Jefferson is complete nonsense. It is important to understand the founders and other heroes of the republic in all their complexity. Yes, we had presidents who owned human beings, and that's an important part of who they were. Yes, even into the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt locked up Americans of Japanese heritage and accommodated bigots in his party by enacting discriminatory versions of New Deal ideas, and that's an important part of who he was. But accepting that great men who made great contributions to their nation were far from perfect is very different than celebrating those whose main contribution was fighting against the United States in order to preserve slavery and white supremacy. And anyone who honestly doesn't see that isn't much of a friend of American ideals.

Third: The continuing question is whether Republican party actors want their party to be Donald Trump's party or not, and if not, whether they are willing to fight -- fight hard -- against those who want it to be that party, whether because they are bigots or because they believe their goals can be achieved by courting bigots. This isn't a new fight, and it didn't begin with Trump; it's been going on since the 1970s, and it's not going to be won overnight, if it's going to be won at all. It took civil-rights Democrats decades to win the fight against bigots in their party, and that might have been somewhat easier because the Democrats in those decentralized times included many voters who were black or from other discriminated-against groups, and eventually quite a few politicians from those groups who led the fight themselves along with white allies.

The fight against bigotry within the Republican Party can be won in theory, albeit not without real costs. Do those who would prefer that kind of party -- and they absolutely exist -- have the stomach for it? I hope so, but I'm not confident so far. 

1. Dave Hopkins, writing after the president's Monday statement but before his Tuesday session with the news media, on the real electoral worry Republicans have (or at least should have) about Trump and Charlottesville. 

2. Ramya M. Vijaya, Monica Miller and David Fletcher at the Monkey Cage on refugees in the U.S. 

3. Kevin Kosar on Trump and Jimmy Carter.

4. Amy Goodman interviews Ta-Nehisi Coates on Trump and where we are. 

5. "Shame. Pity. Scorn. Embarrassment. These are the leitmotifs of the Trump years. And they will stain the great American republic for years yet": That's what the U.S. looks like from overseas, courtesy of Alex Massie.

6. Nate Cohn at the Upshot on voters who moved from Barack Obama to Trump.  

7. Ariel Edwards-Levy speculates (based on the data) about where Trump's approval floor might be. 

8. And Kristen Soltis Anderson also speculates, also data-based, on where Trump's approval floor might be. My view is somewhat simpler. In some 60 years of public-opinion polling, presidents have bottomed out at around 25 percent approval, whether it was Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush. (George H.W. Bush appears to have spiked down into the 20s for a brief period, but I'm skeptical he was ever really there.) I don't think it's impossible to go lower -- some governors have -- but I think it's very, very difficult. That seems to be the point at which we reach hard-core partisans, the kind who can manage to blame Ford and Nixon for stagflation in 1979, Barney Frank for the 2007-2009 recession, and George W. Bush for Libya going wrong during Obama's presidency. Hey: I could make a case for the first of those! So I think Trump is unlikely to get below around 25 percent unless he really becomes a president without a party. And remember, we'll never really know, since it's quite possible he'll never reach whatever his theoretical low point might be.

Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE
    Comments