Checking In On How Supporters Think Trump Is Doing Rachel Martin speaks to Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, about how the president is doing with his base and whether he's keeping his campaign promises.
NPR logo

Checking In On How Supporters Think Trump Is Doing

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610905307/610905308" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Checking In On How Supporters Think Trump Is Doing

Checking In On How Supporters Think Trump Is Doing

Checking In On How Supporters Think Trump Is Doing

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610905307/610905308" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Rachel Martin speaks to Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, about how the president is doing with his base and whether he's keeping his campaign promises.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Foreign policy and diplomacy is slow and methodical, the kind of work that can take years to see any effect, which underscores how exceptional the last week or so in the Trump administration has been, with huge moves on critical worldwide issues. This morning, the U.S. Embassy in Israel officially moves to Jerusalem. We'll hear more about that in the program later. Last week, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. He has also announced the date for talks with North Korea about another nuclear deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And on June 12 in Singapore, I'll be meeting with Kim Jong Un to pursue a future of peace and security for the world, for the whole world.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: And then another big move yesterday - the president took to Twitter with this surprising announcement - and I'm quoting here - "President Xi of China and I are working together to give massive Chinese phone company ZTE a way to get back into business fast," end quote. ZTE is a Chinese electronics manufacturer, and last year, it was penalized by the U.S. for selling equipment to both Iran and North Korea. That violated U.S. sanctions. Those sanctions, though, hit ZTE hard. And now the company's facing bankruptcy. Helping ZTE out has now become part of negotiations between the U.S. and China over trade.

So how are all of these moves playing with President Trump's political base back here at home? For more, I am joined by Matt Schlapp. He is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime supporter of the president.

Matt, thanks so much for being back on the show.

MATT SCHLAPP: Great to be with you again, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. Let's start with this tweet yesterday from the president about the Chinese telecom company ZTE. In the same tweet, the president said, quote, "too many jobs in China lost." Lost jobs in China is not the message that Donald Trump has been selling to his base these past two years. What's going on here?

SCHLAPP: Yeah, I agree. It's been interesting to watch this relationship between the head of the government in China and Donald Trump. Clearly, President Trump is trying to push him on North Korea and trying to push him on having his economy be more open to American goods. And there are times when it seems like there's real chemistry with a world leader like this, and then there are times where he seems like he's ready to get tough. I have a feeling what Donald Trump is mostly worried about is getting China to be worried about being our adversary.

MARTIN: So his supporters would view this as, oh, this is just him negotiating, trying to play nice with China for a moment, and then he'll get tough again?

SCHLAPP: I don't know if I would characterize it that way. I think where most conservatives would want the president to be is to continue to draw a hard line on the ability of Chinese technology to get into our 5G network and the ability of Chinese technology or, quite frankly, Chinese espionage to be able to be emboldened in anything that's viewed as a vital national security infrastructure need. So as long as he stays tough on those issues, these other questions about what kind of flip phone you used or whatever are probably less important, but I think most of his supporters would be just fine if he banned the product.

MARTIN: So like I mentioned, it has been a pretty extraordinary week or so in the Trump administration on the foreign policy front. Today you've got the U.S. embassy move into Jerusalem. Last week, quitting the Iran nuclear deal, also negotiating with the North Korea regime, announcing a date for that summit. This is a president who was swept into power on promises about reinvigorating an American economy, domestic policy. So how does his base perceive this really concentrated focus on foreign policy right now?

SCHLAPP: Well, that's a great question. When you talk about his base, I guess you have to also look at polls. And so I spent a lot of time looking at the polls last week. And, No. 1, most Americans are feeling more optimistic about the country. When you look at the right track, wrong track polls, more Americans now believe that we're on a better track than they did for the last 10 years. The president...

MARTIN: Although the polling is still pretty negative for the president on a personal level.

SCHLAPP: Actually. No, that's actually not true. What's happened - you're right that he's not above 50 in most polls except for the Rasmussen poll. But if you look at his approval ratings, they are trending up. The generic ballot for Republicans is trending up. The reason I say that is this. When you get to foreign policy, which is what your question is about, the president continues to lag there more than any other subject area. And it's where he seems to be having some pretty historic opportunities and, you might even say, successes. So I think you're going to see great improvement from his supporters, but I think just Americans who say, look, we like the idea that there's more promise when it comes to a denuclearized Iran, a denuclearized North Korea and maybe a more tame China.

MARTIN: Lastly, I can't let you go without asking about a story that is getting headlines domestically out of the White House - not a great one for the administration. This is the dust-up between the White House and Senator John McCain. He had been out vocally objecting to President Trump's pick to lead the CIA because of her history with waterboarding. Last week, we heard these reports that White House aide Kelly Sadler said that McCain's opposition doesn't matter because, quote, "he is dying anyway." Meghan McCain called for her to be fired. The White House hasn't even apologized. We should note your wife, Mercedes Schlapp, is actually a communications director at the White House. Why is Kelly Sadler still there?

SCHLAPP: Actually, Mercie (ph) is not the communications director, but she is the strategic communications director. And, in all candor, Kelly does report to her. And I think Kelly acknowledged that the words she used in this meeting were unfortunate. She called Meghan McCain immediately to apologize. But the bigger issue the White House has is that it seems like they can no longer have confidential meetings without people in their own staff leaking it, and that is a mortal threat to the success of this agenda.

MARTIN: Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. Thanks, Matt.

SCHLAPP: Thanks, Rachel.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.