Trump's handling of North Korea was the one thing he — just barely — had going for him with the American public.
Trump not only remains widely unpopular with the American public, but his handling of specific issues generates even less support beyond his hardcore base.
The only exception to that rule had been Trump’s handling of North Korea, and news that he had agreed to meet with the country’s dictator to try to broker a deal on nuclear arms.
And now that’s gone.
Conceding on Thursday that the U.S. cannot go through with the White House’s poorly thought-out summit with North Korea next month, and risk Trump being embarrassed on an international stage when no agreement is reached, the administration has bowed out.
And Trump could take a political hit in the polls over it.
That’s because the proposed summit represented the only public policy initiative of his entire presidency on that had approval from a majority — albeit a slim majority — of the country.
Prior to today, 52 percent of Americans had approved of Trump’s handling of North Korea, while 39 disapproved, for a net advantage of 13 points. That, according to FiveThirtyEight, is the only issue where he enjoys a double-digit cushion of support. In fact, there’s only one other issue — the economy — where he even scratches out a tiny net advantage. And on that, only 48 percent approve of his handling.
On everything else (taxes, Syria, trade, Iran, foreign policy, immigration, Russia, and his scandal-plagued Cabinet), Trump’s underwater, and in many instances, he’s deeply underwater. On his handling of Russia, for example, 36 percent approve while 56 percent disapprove.
North Korea might have been working for Trump because the proposed summit seemed to be one of the few instances where he appeared to be acting even vaguely presidential, instead of his normal vengeful and mean-spirited self. And news about a possible American breakthrough with a longtime foe no doubt helped him politically.
Trump’s anemic approval rating has inched up over the last month, and it’s likely the feel-good headlines about a looming North Korea summit may have fueled the very modest gains.
The odds, though, that a summit with North Korea was ever going to happen and be successful were always slim.
Yet Trump, the White House, and many congressional Republicans made the bizarre decision to treat the scheduling of the summit as a major victory onto itself.
All that did was give North Korea more leverage, since officials there could see how desperate Trump was to have the event take place, so he could bask in possible glory for being praised as a diplomat.
And with it, he may have flushed his only winning issue.