Donald Trump took the politics of no-limits and no-shame into prime time.
Until 2015, the no-limits, no-shame politics was largely the preserve of autocrats and strongmen in poor, developing countries and former Soviet republics. It was the strong leaders of weak states who embraced the awkwardness, never apologised, stoked the divisive and the ugly, winked at calls to violence and exclusivism, and indicated they were above the law by insisting on privileges for themselves and their families.
No-limits, no-shame politics has worked for Mr Trump. He became president of the United States, and has managed to take over the Republican Party in a way that has thoroughly cowed any member minded to heed their conscience (or the US Constitution). Accordingly, The Economist recently had the following cheery headline: “Teflon Don”. The newspaper noted that “Mr Trump’s approval rating moves in a narrower range than those of past presidents: his critics loathe him and his base loves him, come what may”.
It added that public opinion does not seem to have swung heavily against Mr Trump since the impeachment inquiry began in September.
Fair enough. Mr Trump’s popularity is down by just two points since September, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal start of the inquiry. There is every expectation that President Trump will survive a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But (and this is an interesting caveat) there are signs that Mr Trump too is but a man, a politician, a passing phenomenon. It would be unwise to read too much into gubernatorial races in off-off years, but the results in Kentucky and Louisiana over the past two weeks are a reason to examine the shininess of Mr Trump’s appeal.
In Kentucky, a disliked Republican governor lost to his Democrat challenger.
In Louisiana, a popular Democratic governor fended off the challenge posed by the Republican.
The point about both is that Mr Trump had inserted himself into the contests. He campaigned hard for his candidates but both still lost. What does that tell us?
Not that Mr Trump’s own popularity is waning. He’s still ‘Teflon’ enough in terms of his personal poll numbers.
But it does mean that he’s not popular enough to reliably pick election winners.