WASHINGTON — The silver lining for President Donald Trump’s standing in the new NBC/WSJ poll — 43 percent job approval among all adults, just 38 percent of voters who say they’d re-elect him — is that this isn’t far off from where Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were after their midterm drubbings in 1994 and 2010.
And both Clinton and Obama won re-election. Convincingly.
But there’s one difference between Obama and Trump in the poll: A sizable number of Americans thought the former got the message about the midterms and tried to make adjustments, while just one-in-10 feel the same way about Trump after the GOP’s losses last November.
According to our new poll, 10 percent of Americans say Trump has gotten the message that voters wanted a change in direction and that he’s making the necessary adjustments; 22 percent say he got the message but is not making those adjustments; 33 percent say he didn’t get the message; and 31 percent maintain the elections were NOT a message for a change in direction.
By comparison, on this same question in the December 2010 NBC/WSJ poll, 35 percent said Obama got the message that voters wanted a change in direction and that he was making the necessary adjustments; 29 percent said he got the message but wasn’t making those adjustments; 17 percent said he didn’t get the message; and 15 percent maintain the elections were NOT a message for a change in direction.
Trump “thus far has not acted like the GOP suffered a major defeat in November,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who makes up the Dem half of the bipartisan-conducted NBC/WSJ poll. And what makes the 2018 repudiation of Trump so unique, Yang adds, is that it wasn’t based on policy or the state of the economy like the 1994 (health care) and 2010 (Obamacare/10 percent unemployment rate) midterm routs. Instead, it was based more on personality.
“What seems to be the most important change Donald Trump needs to make to win a second term is to fundamentally change who Donald Trump himself is,” Yang says. “The president’s behavior since November 6 suggests he simply can’t or he won’t. And because of that, unlike his predecessors, his difficult prospects for winning a second term become that much more difficult.”
There’s a common theme to the main toplines from the new NBC/WSJ poll: The support for Trump – either on his job performance or on questions about the Russia probe – essentially remains stuck between 35 percent and 40 percent of the country.
Overall job approval for Trump: 43 percent
Those who don’t support Democrats providing more oversight of Trump: 43 percent
Those who would definitely or probably vote to re-elect him in 2020: 38 percent
Americans who agree he’s being honest about the Russia probe: 34 percent
Those who believe the Russia investigation should come to an end: 34 percent.
So this is Trump’s base — going from the diehard 34 percent who believe he’s being honest about the Russia investigation, to the 43 percent who approve of his job.
Indeed, look where Republicans are on these questions:
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Overall job approval among Republicans: 85 percent
Republicans who don’t support Dems providing more oversight of Trump: 81 percent
Republicans who would definitely or probably vote to re-elect him in 2020: 85 percent
Republicans who agree he’s being honest about the Russia probe: 70 percent
Republicans who believe the Russia investigation should come to an end: 64 percent.
But compare those numbers with where independents are on these same questions:
Overall job approval among independents: 41 percent
Independents who don’t support Dems providing more oversight of Trump: 39 percent
Independents who would definitely or probably vote to re-elect him in 2020: 25 percent
Independents who agree he’s being honest about the Russia probe: 29 percent
Independents who believe the Russia investigation should come to an end: 31 percent.
Bottom line: Trump is playing to his base — and few outside of it.
Speaking of Trump playing to his base and not getting the message from the midterms, here was the Trump White House’s Stephen Miller on the possibility of a government shutdown on CBS yesterday:
STEPHEN MILLER: We're going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall to stop this ongoing crisis of illegal immigration—
MARGARET BRENNAN: And that means a shutdown?
STEPHEN MILLER: This is a — this is a very — if it comes to it, absolutely. This is a very fundamental issue. At stake is the question of whether or not the United States remains a sovereign country. Whether or not we can establish and enforce rules for entrance into our country. The Democrat Party has a simple choice. They can either choose to fight for America's working class or to promote illegal immigration. You can't do both.
But as the New York Times points out, Trump and the GOP have less leverage, because many defeated Republicans simply aren’t showing up to vote.
“Call it the revenge of the lame ducks. Many lawmakers, relegated to cubicles as incoming members take their offices, have been skipping votes in the weeks since House Republicans were swept from power in the midterm elections, and Republican leaders are unsure whether they will ever return."
More: “It is perhaps a fitting end to a Congress that has showcased the untidy politics of the Trump era: Even if the president ultimately embraces a solution that avoids a shutdown, House Republican leaders do not know whether they will have the votes to pass it.”
The other big political news over the weekend was a federal judge striking down Obamacare (though the ruling doesn’t have any effect on the law’s current status as of now). On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats would vote to intervene in the case.
“We're going to fight this, tooth and nail. And the first thing we're going to do, when we get back there in the Senate, is urge — put a vote on the floor urging an intervention in the case. The judge — a lot of this depends on congressional intent. And if a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate say that this case should be overturned, it'll have a tremendous effect on the appeal,” he said.
“Donald Trump and a large number of Republicans brought this court suit. So there are going to be a good number of Republicans who are going to really have to make a decision whether to join us in this intervention or face very severe consequences.”
Trump issued another tweet approving of the federal judge's ruling: “The DEDUCTIBLE which comes with ObamaCare is so high that it is practically not even useable! Hurts families badly. We have a chance, working with the Democrats, to deliver great HealthCare! A confirming Supreme Court Decision will lead to GREAT HealthCare results for Americans!”
“Former Vice President Joe Biden and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont led the massive field of 2020 Democratic primary contenders in a very early Iowa poll released this weekend,” per NBC’s Allan Smith. “A Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll, released Saturday, showed Biden garnering 32 percent support from likely Democratic caucusgoers in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state, while Sanders picked up support from 19 percent of respondents.”
“Following Biden and Sanders was Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas, who narrowly lost a Senate bid last month against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and has since seen his stock rise among Democrats. O'Rourke came in with 11 percent support. No other candidate received more than 10 percent in the Iowa poll.”
And finally, more from our new NBC/WSJ poll: “In a year marked by a thriving U.S. economy, Americans named the nation’s improving economic outlook as the single most important event to them personally during 2018, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. But a much darker theme also continued to permeate the American psyche: another year of deadly mass shootings,” one of us writes.
“According to the new poll, more than a third of American adults — 35 percent — said that mass shootings, like those at a Florida high school and a Pittsburgh synagogue this year, were either the first or second most important events of 2018. Nineteen percent named mass shootings as the single most important news event in their lives over the past year.”
Chuck Todd is moderator of "Meet The Press" and NBC News' political director.
Mark Murray is a senior political editor at NBC News.