Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated: Wed, 05 Jun 2019 12:36:12 GMT
Donald Trump is not someone who accepts losing. Whether in his decades in the business world or his second career as a politician -- and President -- his career is marked with a refusal to acknowledge when he has come up short.
He appeared triumphant after declaring bankruptcy. He touted his victory after a Republican Congress failed to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act. He said, without evidence, he would have won the 2016 popular vote if 3 to 5 million illegal votes had not been cast. And on and on it goes.
In Trump's world, he can't lose because, well, Trumps never lose. (It reminds me of the scene in the remarkable HBO miniseries "Chernobyl" where one of the leaders of the clean-up effort is told by the higher-ups in the Russian government that a global nuclear disaster simply cannot happen there.)
"We love winners," Trump said at a campaign rally in Indiana in 2018. "We love winners. Winners are winners."
So true. So, so true.
Which brings us to Wednesday morning -- and a Trump tweet he sent just before participating in a ceremony in Portsmouth, England, commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Tweeteth Trump:
"If the totally Corrupt Media was less corrupt, I would be up by 15 points in the polls based on our tremendous success with the economy, maybe Best Ever! If the Corrupt Media was actually fair, I would be up by 25 points. Nevertheless, despite the Fake News, we're doing great!"
If there is any thread of consistency in Trump's messaging to the American people over these last four years, it's this: The media is corrupt, they didn't want me to win, they don't want me to succeed and they will do anything in their power to ensure that outcome.
It follows, then, that Trump is already planting the seeds to blame the media if he loses in 2020. He would have won easily if he had received positive press coverage! His loss isn't actually a loss because he won by proving that the media is so corrupt! Etc., etc.
A quick bit of digging shows that Trump a) has already trotted out other, similar excuses to explain away his low approval numbers and b) his assessment of where he would be without the so-called "fake news" is way, way off-base.
As recently as last month, Trump was blaming special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for the state of his poll numbers. "Without the ILLEGAL Witch Hunt, my poll numbers, especially because of our historically 'great' economy, would be at 65%," he tweeted. "Too bad! The greatest Hoax in American History."
So, which is it? The Mueller probe or the terrible media? Chicken and egg? Six of one, half dozen of the other?
Then there is the idea that Trump's approval rating would be in the mid-to-high 60s if not for the negative news coverage and/or the Mueller investigation. Which is, well, preposterous. The only time Barack Obama hit those heights was in the first few months of his first term, according to Gallup's numbers. George W. Bush actually got to 90% approval in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, but spent most of the second half of his presidency well below 50%. Trump has NEVER gone over 50% approval in any of Gallup's weekly approval tracking polls since he was elected.
To be clear: There is no question that much of the coverage of Trump's presidency has been heavily tilted to what Trump would consider as negative. But a) that coverage is the result of a President who has an itchy Twitter finger, a penchant for veering wildly off-message and an ahistorical approach to his job and b) it's not clear that the coverage of Trump is what's driving his negatives as opposed to the President himself.
No matter where the truth lies, you can bet that Trump will continue to push the idea that he would be winning his re-election race easily if the "fake news" media would cover him even close to fairly. And that if he winds up losing, he will lay that defeat -- assuming he acknowledges it at all -- at the feet of a media who spent four years trying to "get" him.
Trump hates to lose, which is why he will refuse to do it. Or, at least, accept it if it happens.