THE BLOG
01/14/2017 08:10 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2018

Perpetual Political War

The Trump slump has begun. Trump has less public support than any President-elect on record. Only 44 percent of Americans say they approve of Trump's handling of the presidential transition, according to Gallup. That number is going down. It was 48 percent a month ago.

Compare that with George W. Bush, who took office in January 2001 after the fiercely disputed Florida recount. Bush started out with 61 percent support. Bill Clinton won the 1992 election with 43 percent of the popular vote in a three-way split with President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. Clinton's transition rating: 68 percent approval.

Honeymoon? Forget it. Only 37 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Trump in this month's Quinnipiac poll. Most Americans don't like Trump.

There is only one way Trump can survive: perpetual political war. He got elected by dividing the country. It was not exactly the old division, left versus right. Trump provoked a populist-elitist division by fiercely attacking the cosmopolitan ruling class. ``There is nothing that the political establishment will not do, no lie that they won't tell, to hold their prestige and power at your expense,'' he told a rally in Florida in October.

Resentment of intellectuals and educated elites is an old theme in U.S. politics, going all the way back to Andrew Jackson. Trump exploited it relentlessly. He ended up carrying non-college educated white voters by better than two to one.

The cultural elite's response to Trump? Contempt. Actress Meryl Streep denounced Trump as a ``bully'' for his ``instinct to humiliate'' the less fortunate. Trump's response? Defiance. He called Streep ``one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood'' and ``a Hillary flunky who lost big.'' Contempt versus defiance. That is likely to be the prevailing mode of political discourse for the next four years.

Given the interference in the election by Russia and the FBI, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told NBC News, ``I don't see this President-elect as a legitimate President.'' Trump's response via Twitter: ``Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime-infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.''

A former Hillary Clinton campaign strategist said on MSNBC, ``What would be great is if [Trump] started conducting himself in a way that's consistent with the manner of all preceding Presidents. . . . Stop hurling insults. Stop hurling tweets.'' Trump's response? A defiant tweet: ``What are Hillary Clinton's people complaining about with respect to the FBI? Based on the information they had, she should never have been allowed to run -- guilty as hell.''

For Trump to survive, two conditions must hold. Republicans have to keep their majorities in Congress, and Trump's supporters have to stand by him. His supporters can threaten any Republican in Congress who opposes or even criticizes the President with a serious primary challenge.

Trump knows how to rally his army. He has weaponized social media. Twitter nurtures populism. It enables Trump to bypass the news media and communicate directly with his people, who regard the media as a despised elite. As President, Trump has to continue tweeting to keep his populist following on a war footing.

A revenge cycle is underway in American politics. The minute Barack Obama took office in 2009, conservatives organized a resistance movement. The Tea Party sprang into existence a few weeks after Obama's inauguration. Its mission was to oppose and obstruct everything Obama tried to do.

Now a resistance movement is emerging among progressive Democrats. Its mission is to everything Trump tries to do. Big city Democratic mayors say they will refuse to cooperate with efforts to deport immigrants who seek refuge in their cities. Democratic state officials are organizing to do the same thing Republican state officials did when Obama was President -- go to court to challenge the federal government's constitutional authority to pass laws they find objectionable.

The California legislature is retaining Eric Holder, Obama's former attorney general, to represent them in legal confrontations with the Trump Administration. ``Having the former attorney general of the United States brings us a lot of firepower in order to prepare to safeguard the values of the people of California,'' the Democratic leader of the state senate said.

The Democratic National Committee is setting up a ``war room'' to fight President Trump -- a research and communications operation aimed at rallying opposition to his policies, exposing his conflicts of interest and challenging his factual distortions.

You thought the 2016 campaign was over? It was actually the opening salvo of a war that's likely to go on for years. Trump thrives on division. The Trump slump doesn't threaten him as long as his army is ready to fight at his command.