Sixty-six percent of Americans are “worried” that President Trump will lead the country into a “major war” in his first term, according to an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released last week.
The high level of anxiety over the president is also evident in his low approval numbers, just a month into his first term.
With the president set to address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, the voters are making it clear — both in polls and in town hall meetings — that they are nervous about Trump. They are trusting in Congress’ power to stop him from taking the country on a wild ride that might veer out of control.
Since Republicans hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, the pressure falls heavily on the GOP to police the president.
Across the country, voters have poured into town halls with members of Congress to demand close oversight of Trump on three topics in particular.
They want the GOP to put a better health insurance plan in place before ending ObamaCare.
They want Congress to take a serious look at the scandal involving former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
And they are full of doubts about the Republican Senate’s ability to investigate apparent Russian interference in the presidential election, given that the alleged interference appears to have helped the Republican candidate.
At this point, most presidents are in a ‘honeymoon’ period with the public, often enjoying an approval rating of around 60 percent.
But last week, a CBS News poll had Trump at 39 percent approval and 51 percent disapproval; Gallup had similar results at 43 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval; and Quinnipiac had him at 38 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval.
These negative polls are dismissed by Trump. He reminds friendly rallies of the polls that failed to see him winning in November. But for members of Congress, the polls — like the town hall meetings — are a series of urgent, flashing red lights.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll last week found 53 percent of Americans saying they want Congress to “serve as a check on the president,” while only 31 percent favor Congress following his lead on legislation.
Even Republican voters want Congress to play a strong role in watching over what is happening at the White House. The same poll finds more than a third of Republicans, 37 percent, saying they want Congress to put a “check” on the president so as to keep the country from going off track. Republicans in Congress can’t ignore more than a third of their own voters.
The clear expectation for Congress to manage and monitor the Trump White House is making Republicans nervous because their jobs will be on the line in the 2018 midterms, long before the next presidential election.
As the president’s approval remains in the 40 percent range, according to one analysis by the FiveThirtyEight blog, there is “an increasingly strong relationship between how people feel about the president and how they vote for Congress.”
FiveThirtyEight’s very early and wildly inexact attempt at an estimate suggests that if the president remains this unpopular by the time of the 2018 House races, Republicans “would be forecast to lose roughly 40 seats.” That would easily give Democrats the House majority for the last two years of Trump’s first term.
The New York Times’ “Upshot” notes, however, that congressional districts have been drawn by Republicans to their advantage. The reality is that the party has a “better chance to ride out a president’s weak approval ratings than in the past.” Even so, the Times notes that most presidents see their approval rating fall after their first month. If Trump’s approval rating “falls into the mid-to-low 30s, the Republicans could be in serious trouble.”
In addition, the 2018 Senate midterms are favorably organized for Republicans. The GOP is defending only 8 incumbents in the election while Democrats will have 25 incumbents on the ballot. In the House, Democrats will have to win 24 seats to capture the majority.
The favorable terrain for Republicans has donations flowing into the party at a record pace since the November election. The Hill reported last week that the Republican National Committee collected $16.2 million in December — almost double what they raised in the same period four years ago, after President Obama won his second term.
The Democratic National Committee has not posted its fundraising totals. But the split in the party over the election of a new chairman and last year’s scandal involving hacked emails have made fundraising difficult. The party’s base is energized in opposition to Trump but so far that has primarily boosted fundraising for outside groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU reported raising $24 million in one weekend after it sued to stop Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. Democrats are waiting to see if they can attract similar record donations.
The Republicans, meanwhile, are having trouble finding strong candidates to run against incumbent Senate Democrats, even in states carried by Trump. Republican House members with strong credentials, including Reps. Sean Duffy (Wis.), Pat Meehan (Pa.) and Ryan Zinke (Mont.) have all decided against entering Senate races.
Trump will be center stage Tuesday night. But voters clearly have their eyes on the people they sent to Congress to see how closely they are watching the president.