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The good, the bad and the ugly for Trump in the new NBC/WSJ poll

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.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H. on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019.Patrick Semansky / AP

WASHINGTON — The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll contains good, bad and ugly numbers for President Trump.

The good: Despite his overall job-approval rating at 43 percent, Trump’s approval rating in handling the economy is much higher — at 49 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove. (The poll was conducted mostly before Wednesday’s 800-point drop in the Dow.)

The bad: The sliver of Americans who approve of Trump’s job handling — but who disapprove of his overall job performance — aren’t potential Trump voters in 2020. In fact, they back a generic Democrat over Trump, 73 percent to 5 percent.

The ugly: Only 36 percent of Americans say they approve of Trump’s handling of the aftermath of the El Paso and Dayton shootings that killed more than 30 people.

And those numbers are consistent with perceptions of Trump’s handling of other tragedies and scares, per the NBC/WSJ poll.

  • The pipe-bomb packages sent to prominent Democrats and reporters: 39 percent
  • The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: 37 percent
  • Hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico: 29 percent
  • Charlottesville: 20 percent

By contrast, here’s the approval for other presidents’ handling of tragedies:

  • George W. Bush after 9/11: 87 percent
  • Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing: 84 percent
  • Barack Obama after the Tucson shooting: 74 percent

Even on Hurricane Katrina, Americans were split 48 percent to 48 percent on Bush’s handling of that tragedy back then.

“Americans typically rally around their president in times of national tumult and tragedy,” says Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, whose firm co-conducted the NBC/WSJ survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

“Yet again in his response to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, we see that Americans view Donald Trump and his reactions to national tragedies far differently.”

Unpopularity contest

Despite those pretty grim numbers for Trump, there’s some additional good news for the president when it comes to 2020: The top Democrats vying to take on the president are more unpopular than they were in 2017-2018.

(Which is probably to be expected when one enters the fray of a presidential contest.)

Joe Biden has seen his popularity among all adults come down to earth – from 54 percent positive, 22 percent negative in January 2018 (+32), to 34 percent positive, 38 percent negative now (-4).

Opinions of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also have dropped – from 44 percent positive, 30 percent negative in 2017 (+14), to 37 percent positive, 40 percent negative now (-3).

And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., stands at 31 percent positive, 32 percent negative (-1) – down from 30 percent positive, 28 percent negative in 2018 (+2).

“A year from now, both remaining candidates will have a net-negative favorable rating,” GOP pollster McInturff predicted about the possible/likely general election.

That said, Trump is more unpopular than either of those three Democrats – at 39 percent positive, 53 percent negative (-14).

2020 Vision: O’Rourke, Sanford appear on “Meet the Press”

Here was Beto O’Rourke on “Meet the Press” yesterday:

“You know, from the outset of this campaign, even before this campaign, I talked about how dangerous President Trump's open racism is, the Mexicans as rapists and criminals, the Muslims, who should be banned from this country... But it wasn't until someone, inspired by Donald Trump, drove more than 600 miles, to my hometown, and killed 22 people in my community with a weapon of war, an AK-47, that he had no business owning, that no American should own, unless they are on a battlefield, engaged with the enemy. It wasn't until that moment that I truly understood how critical this moment is and the real consequence and cost of Donald Trump.”

And here was Republican Mark Sanford, who’s mulling a primary challenge against Trump:

Chuck Todd: "Does [Trump] deserve re-election?"

Mark Sanford: "I would say, no. Because I would argue that he's taking us in the wrong direction. Just take one indicator. If you look at the business investment numbers over the last couple of months, they've been cratering. That's reality. And in part, the reason they're cratering is nobody knows what's going to come next, in terms of trade."

On the campaign trail today

Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Steve Bullock (via video) participate in a Native American presidential forum in Sioux City, Iowa… Bernie Sanders is also in the Hawkeye State, holding a town hall in Davenport and playing a baseball game against the press at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville… Elizabeth Warren holds a town hall in St. Paul, Minn…. And Kirsten Gillibrand participates in an interview with the Washington Post.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Seven presidential candidates (Delaney, Bennet, Klobuchar, Castro, Yang, de Blasio and Moulton) spoke at the Hillsborough County Democrats picnic in New Hampshire on Sunday. NBC’s Amanda Golden has the highlights:

  • Castro, by far, got the loudest applause out of all of the candidates, and was the only one to receive a standing ovation when he delivered a passionate call for reforming the immigration system and restoring decency in the White House.
  • De Blasio and Yang once again crossed paths while taking turns to speak – Yang was taking some pictures with attendees after concluding his speaking time and de Blasio was about to go up, and they exchanged a quick hug and a pat on the back for one another.
  • Moulton did not rule out running for other office when asked by NBC News if his candidacy for the presidency doesn’t pan out.

Beto O’Rourke visited Fayetteville, Arkansas where he compared President Trump’s rhetoric to Nazi Germany. NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports, “O’Rourke quickly began to slam President Donald Trump’s inhumane rhetoric, saying that he would only expect human beings to be described as ‘an infestation in the Third Reich,’ he said. ‘Not in America.’ He called on everyone to wake up and recognize that Trump’s divisive leadership ‘is not an act of God,’ it’s something that the country can change.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … 55 percent

Fifty-five percent.

That’s the share of Americans in the new NBC/WSJ poll who say they’re “very worried” that the United States will experience another mass shooting or attack by white nationalists, targeting people based on their color or country of origin.

By comparison, just 27 percent say they’re very worried the U.S. will experience another major terrorist attack, according to the same poll.

In the January 2002 NBC/WSJ poll — so just months removed from the 9/11 terrorist attacks — 30 percent said they were very worried about another terrorist attack.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Not everything’s bigger in Texas

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we tried to answer why Beto O’Rourke isn’t going to change his mind and run for the Senate in 2020.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn’t miss

The president is dismissing fears of a looming recession (or writing it off as a conspiracy.)

Support for free trade reaches a new high in NBC/WSJ poll.

POLITICO reports that Trump no longer speaks to Tom Barrack.

The Business Roundtable is offering a new version of its vision for corporations.

Thirteen presidential candidates — but not Biden — will be at a DNC meeting in San Francisco.

NBC’s Ali Vitali previews Elizabeth Warren’s appearance at a forum focused on Native American issues.

Trump Agenda: Required attendance

Union workers at a petrochemical plant in Pennsylvania were required to attend Trump’s speech at the company last week — or lose pay.

Experts say the gun control debate should focus more on high-capacity magazines.

A no-deal Brexit could lead to economic and social chaos in Britain, according to leaked government documents.

China is massing troops within sight of Hong Kong to send a message to activists there.

2020: That keynote speech seven years ago

The New York Times looks back at Julian Castro’s “Obama moment” in 2012.

The AP checks in with Justin Amash’s reelection race.

And here’s POLITICO on Michigan’s big-stakes Senate contest.

Voters in the suburbs are pushing Republicans on gun control.

Here’s how Bernie Sanders is proposing to reduce the prison population.