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August Proves to Be a Cruel Month for Trump

The White House has had to manage Harvey, Charlottesville, North Korea, Steve Bannon and more this month.
President Donald Trump speaks to the press on Aug. 11, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.Jim Watson / AFP-Getty Images file

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — Four weeks ago, we told you that August can be the cruelest month for presidents. And sure enough, that pattern held for President Donald Trump. Consider:

  • He and his administration found themselves engaged in a standoff with North Korea;
  • Hurricane Harvey wrecked the Gulf Coast;
  • Trump threw some rhetorical punches at key congressional Republicans, and some of them punched back;
  • There was another staff shakeup, with chief strategist Steve Bannon exiting the White House;
  • And, maybe most important of all, Trump badly mishandled the violence and unrest in Charlottesville.

Indeed, Charlottesville could end up being the most consequential week of Trump’s presidency so far — if his standing doesn’t recover. (And that’s a big “if,” since Trump still has another three-plus years left in his term.)

As NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart summed up the findings of the focus group he conducted Tuesday night, where even Trump voters said they were disappointed in the president.

“I've been doing this, as you know, 44 years of focus groups — nine different presidents. I've never seen anything like [Tuesday] night — not in terms of people being unhappy with the chief executive, but in terms of being so disappointed with the way in which he approaches the office.”

One other thing we learned this August: Trump doesn’t know how to vacation. Just look at all of the tweets he fired off at members of his own party when he was at his Bedminster country club.

Mr. 30 Percent: Trump is speaking only to his base

The latest online NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll contains a familiar percentage for President Trump and his policies — 30 percent or thereabouts.

  • 39 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job as president (compared with 59 percent who disapprove);
  • 36 percent have a favorable impression of the president (versus 61 percent with an unfavorable view);
  • 34 percent say Trump did the right thing in pardoning Joe Arpaio (while 60 percent say he did the wrong thing);
  • 38 percent believe immigration hurts the country more than it helps (versus 57 percent who think it helps more than it hurts);
  • 30 percent oppose the Obama-era DACA policy that allows qualified young undocumented immigrants to live legally in the U.S. (compared with 64 percent who support it);

So Trump is speaking only to about a third of the country — his base, that is — especially when it comes to immigration and the Arpaio pardon. (The one exception in this poll, however, is that 68 percent believe undocumented immigrants living in the United States are a serious problem. On the other hand, 71 percent believe these undocumented immigrants should be offered a chance to obtain legal status.)

Back in June, we noted that our live-caller national NBC/WSJ poll found the numbers from Trump and his policies hovered between 38-42 percent. Well, at least in this NBC|SurveyMonkey poll, that range is now 30-39 percent.

Trump pitches tax-reform principles — but no specifics

NBC’s Ali Vitali with the dispatch from Missouri: “President Donald Trump urged Congress to act on a sweeping, bipartisan overhaul of the tax system Wednesday, promoting the loose outlines of a plan that he said would ease the burden on ‘forgotten’ middle class Americans while also reducing taxes for businesses.”

More: “His speech offered four vague points for reform, but did not put forth much in the way of policy specifics — something White House officials warned would be the case beforehand.”

Mueller teams up with New York’s attorney general

Regarding the Russia investigation, here is Politico: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.”

Why is this significant? “The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.”

Our colleague Ari Melber made that last point earlier this week — that Trump’s pardon power doesn’t carry over to state crimes.