There’s a lot of great news for President Trump in the wake of his impeachment trial. His Gallup approval rating is at 49%—an all-time high for his presidency—but even more stunning is that 63% of Americans now approve of the way Trump is handling the economy. That is the highest economic approval rating for any president in almost two decades.
Here’s the problem: The gap between his economic approval and his personal approval is 14 points, which means there are millions of Americans who approve of Trump’s policies but do not approve of him. His job between now and November is to win them over.
So far, Trump has spent most of this time feeding his base, not trying to expand it. That is understandable. For the past three years, he has been under unrelenting attack—first from the Russia investigation and then the impeachment inquiry. When you are under assault, you rally your supporters and push back. But now that the Mueller probe cleared Trump of a conspiracy with Russia and the Senate has acquitted him, it is time for Trump to do what every successful two-term president before him has done: work to bring persuadable Americans into his coalition.
Many of these voters might be willing to give Trump a fresh look—if he asks for one. While most don’t agree that his phone call with the president of Ukraine was “perfect,” they saw the Democrats’ effort to use it to remove him as transparently political. And they are happy with the results of Trump’s presidency. The new Gallup poll finds that nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they are better off financially than they were a year ago, and 74% believe they will be financially better off financially this time next year.
Trump needs to translate those sentiments into votes in November. How? He got off to a great start during his State of the Union address, laying out the details of his economic success. “Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again,” he declared.
But most important, he used his address to make his most explicit pitch to black voters yet. He pointed out that on his watch African American unemployment and African American youth unemployment had both reached the lowest levels ever. He highlighted his record funding for the United States’ historically black colleges and universities, and the landmark criminal-justice reform he signed into law. He recognized Charles McGee, a 100-year-old retired Tuskegee airman (whom he promoted to brigadier general) and McGee’s great-grandson, who wants to join Trump’s new Space Force service branch.
And the president introduced Tony Rankins, a homeless black Army veteran who turned his life around thanks to the Trump policy creating Opportunity Zones to revitalize struggling towns and inner-city communities.
Now, the president needs to take that message on the road. He should visit charter schools and talk about his administration’s strong backing of school choice, particularly for inner-city students. He should visit Opportunity Zones and highlight the lives that are being transformed there. He should visit programs that are helping former convicts who are turning their lives around. He should visit black churches and remind black voters that he promised them in 2016, “whether you vote for me or not, I will be your greatest champion.” He should tell them: Most of you didn’t vote for me, but I’m fighting for you anyway—just as I promised—and I’m delivering.
Trump does not have to increase his African American support by much for it to have an impact on 2020. The 8% of the black vote he got in 2016 was below the historic average for Republicans, and it is unclear whether the Democrats’ eventual nominee will have enthusiastic black support. Several polls show that Trump is making inroads with black voters. Even a marginal uptick in support could help tip the scales in Trump’s favor on Election Day.
Plus, reaching out to black voters is critical to pushing back on the Democrats’ narrative that he is a bigot, and to winning back the suburban voters who defected to Democrats in 2018. These voters are happy with the Trump economy, but uncomfortable with Trump. Seeing him fight for people who do not vote for him is exactly the kind of presidential leadership that will appeal to these persuadable voters.
Trump’s base is already highly energized. If even a fraction of the millions of Americans who approve of the president’s policies but don’t approve of Trump personally can be persuaded to vote for him in November, he might not just win a second term, but also win it in a landslide.