At a time when the big-tent TV show seems all but dead and niche shows proliferate (“Marvelous Mrs. Mais-who?” groaned many Emmy viewers), Mr. Trump has created an unscripted drama that has unified living rooms everywhere. Whether you’re rooting for the antihero or cheering for his demise, chances are Trump TV has you under steady — some would say unhealthy — hypnosis.
But an equally significant problem is that the act itself is a little shopworn. The lines can feel rehearsed. The speech I attended in Duluth shaded more toward a reunion than a rally, heavy on nostalgia for the glory days of past triumphs. The jumbotron played Fox News clips from Election Night 2016 as the anchors called each state for Trump. “That was an amazing evening,” Trump told the crowd a bit wistfully, as if he were reliving prom night. He led the audience in chants of “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” and “CNN sucks!” It all felt ritualized, scripted—no teleprompter necessary.
Trump's victory was considered a stunning political upset by most observers, as polls had consistently showed Hillary Clinton with a nationwide—though diminishing—lead, as well as a favorable advantage in most of the competitive states. Trump's support had been modestly underestimated throughout his campaign, and many observers blamed errors in polls, partially attributed to pollsters overestimating Clinton's support among well-educated and nonwhite voters, while underestimating Trump's support among white working-class voters. Actually, the polls were relatively accurate, but media outlets and pundits alike showed overconfidence in a Clinton victory despite a large number of undecided voters and a favorable concentration of Trump's core constituencies in competitive states.
Pence’s political brain is a 36-year-old operative named Nick Ayers. During his meteoric rise to the top echelon of Republican strategists, Ayers developed a reputation as something of a Georgia-born Sammy Glick that left him with powerful enemies, including his colleagues in the West Wing. “Everybody knows Nick is not loyal to the president,” an administration official told me. “Trump thinks Nick is a backstabber. He does not trust him at all.” In August 2017, the Times reported that Ayers and Pence adviser Marty Obst were privately courting G.O.P. donors for a possible Pence run in 2020. Trump became furious this past April when he learned that Ayers had persuaded Pence to recruit a pollster named Jon Lerner to join the V.P.’s staff. According to a source briefed on the conversations, Kellyanne Conway told Trump that Lerner was a Never Trumper who’d once worked for Paul Singer, the G.O.P. mega-donor who funded the conservative politics website Free Beacon, which commissioned the oppo research firm that later produced the infamous Christopher Steele dossier. “Why would Mike do that?” Trump reportedly asked advisers. Lerner backed out of the job.
Of course, don’t furl the flag or shut down those offshore accounts or start writing the complete history of American decline quite yet. After all, the United States still looms “lone” on an ever more chaotic planet. Its wealth remains stunning, its economic clout something to behold, its tycoons the envy of the Earth, and its military beyond compare when it comes to how much and how destructively, even if not how successfully. Still, make no mistake about it, Donald Trump is a harbinger, however bizarre, of a new American century in which this country will indeed no longer be (with a bow to Muhammad Ali) “the Greatest” or, for all but a shrinking crew, exceptional.
In late January 2017 several members of Trump's 2016 campaign staff formed America First Policies, a pro-Trump political nonprofit. Those involved included former deputy campaign chairs Rick Gates and David Bossie. Brad Parscale and Katrina Pierson were also involved. Additionally involved were Nick Ayers and Marty Obst, both of whom served as advisors to Mike Pence during the 2016 campaign. Trump's former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh has also joined the organization. Near the end of May, members of the organization (including Walsh) participated in meetings at the RNC's D.C. offices with members Trump's family to discuss campaign strategy.
Presidential approval ratings have shown Trump to be the least popular president in the history of modern opinion polling as of the start of his second year in office. Early polls have shown Trump trailing by a margin of 10–18 percent against several hypothetical Democratic candidates, including Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand. In 2018, the presidential reelection effort and the Congressional midterms both drew presidential campaign attention.