Jennifer Rubin: Americans have wised up when it comes to Trump

FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump points to a supporter as he departs a rally at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Miss. President Donald Trump’s campaign has launched a state-by-state effort to prevent an intraparty fight that could spill over into the general-election campaign. The initiative includes changing state party rules, crowding out potential rivals and quelling any early signs of opposition. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

American have learned through experience to disregard most of what President Donald Trump says. The days of Trump snookering most of the people most of the time are over.

According to the latest CBS News poll, 66 percent of Americans don't think Trump should declare an emergency to build the wall. "If government funding runs out on Feb. 15 and there's still an impasse over wall funding, Americans don't want either side to force another shutdown," CBS reports. "Seventy-three percent of Americans want Mr. Trump to continue negotiating while keeping the government open, rather than demand wall funding if that forces a shutdown. A similar number (75 percent) say congressional Democrats should also continue negotiating, rather than deny funding in a move that might force a shutdown."

While 58 percent think the economy is very or somewhat good, when asked "how the country overall is doing compared to a year ago, more say the country is worse off (50 percent) than better (28 percent)." Large majorities believe Trump has not brought manufacturing jobs back to the United States (55 percent), made the U.S. borders more secure (62 percent), reduced the influence of donors and lobbyists (71 percent), been a role model (73 percent) or tried to unify Americans (65 percent). Majorities have little or no confidence in his ability to apply business-world ideas to government, handle North Korea negotiating or strike deals with Congress. (58 percent don't think now is the time for Trump to have another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and 82 percent think Pyongyang has expanded or kept its nuclear weapons program.)

A substantial majority, 62 percent, think Trump has not handled the Russia probe appropriately, while a healthy margin of 54 to 46 percent think Robert Mueller has handled the investigation fairly.

What can we learn from all of this?

First, Trump's attack on the press has been a bust. He hasn't been able to generate sympathy for himself or undermine accurate reporting on foreign policy (e.g. talks with North Korea haven't actually accomplished what Trump said they did) or on domestic matters (e.g. there is no southern border emergency), nor has he been able to maintain illusions about himself (e.g., he has successfully run government like a business, he is a dealmaking genius).

Second, Trump’s presidency is hanging by a thread — the economy. With unemployment so low and attitudes toward the economy so high, it is historically anomalous to see such negative attitudes toward the president and such pessimism about the direction of the economy. Only 28 percent say the state of the union is better than it was a year ago. The divide between attitudes toward Trump (dropping into the high 30s in most polls) on one hand and, on the other, the economy and willingness to credit Trump for the economy (46 percent give Trump a great deal of credit on the economy; another 31 percent give him some credit) suggest that good economic times don’t make up for Trump’s atrocious performance on other matters. Coupled with the fact that presidents get a disproportionate amount of credit or blame for the economy, one could see his meager approval numbers sinking still further should we enter a period of economic decline.

Finally, Democrats in 2020 will have a receptive audience if they make the case that Trump has made us less free, less united, less respected in the world, less safe and less decent as a people. If we do hit the economic skids, they should not be shying on pointing to his economic stewardship, but they should be precise in their indictment of his economic results. In the aggregate our economy continues to grow and add jobs (although at a slower pace than under President Barack Obama); the problems concern how widely prosperity is shared, the disparity between wage growth and growth of expenses (e.g. college, health care), and the economic fortunes of future generations.

Voters are surely predisposed to vote against Trump. The challenge for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will be to explain his or her vision in which voters see wider distribution of wealth and enjoy a kinder, gentler, saner and more united America. It’s really not too much to ask for — nor for a nominee to deliver.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.