Majority Of Americans Oppose Trump’s Position On N.F.L. Protests
A new poll finds that a majority of Americans disagree with President Trump’s comments about what should happen to National Football League players who decline to stand for the National Anthem:
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A majority of Americans disagree with President Donald Trump’s assertion that football players should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem, even though most say they would personally stand during the song, according to an exclusive Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Tuesday.
The Sept. 25-26 poll found that 57 percent of adults do not think the National Football League should fire players who kneel. This included 61 percent of NFL fans who watch at least a few games per season.
The results were split along party lines, however, as 82 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans disagreed with the president’s comments about firing football players.
Trump waded into the issue last week at a political rally when he bemoaned what he saw as a decline in the sport. Among other things, Trump criticized players who want to draw attention to what they believe is social and racial injustice by refusing to stand during the anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now’,” Trump said at the rally. “He’s fired!”
Trump, who once owned a pro football team in a now-defunct rival league, added that the NFL is “ruining the game” with a fixation on player safety.
The president’s comments sparked a swift and widespread rebuke from the NFL last weekend as many players, coaches and owners kneeled, locked arms or stayed off the field during pregame ceremonies.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll explored the complicated feelings that many Americans have about how to express their nationality.
Eighty-five percent of adults said, for example, that they almost always “stand in silence” when the national anthem is played at an event they are attending. Seventy-four percent said they almost always put their hand over their heart.
Yet, when it comes to professional athletes, there is less agreement about what is appropriate. While 58 percent of adults said that “professional athletes should be required to stand during the national anthem at sporting events,” there is rising support for those athletes who do not.
In the latest poll, 40 percent of Americans said that they support the stance that some pro football players have made to not stand during the anthem. That is up from 28 percent who answered the same way in a similar Reuters/Ipsos poll last year.
In addition, 53 percent of Americans do not think it is appropriate for the president to comment on “how the NFL and its players conduct themselves during the national anthem.”
Given the fact that they are largely consistent with other polling taken in response to controversial comments made by the President in press appearances, speeches, and on Twitter, these poll results are not entirely surprising. Additionally, while there have been some claims by many on the right that the protests have led to declining television ratings for the N.F.L., the reality is that the decline has been far less severe than some commentators have claimed, and to the extent that viewership as traditionally measured has shown somewhat of a decline over the course of the past two years it’s likely that this decline is attributable to factors unrelated to the protest such as the fact that television viewing habits are rapidly changing in favor of streaming video. Additionally, subsequent reports have indicated that ratings for Sunday night’s game on NBC and Monday night’s game on ESPN were both up over previous weeks and helped to boost total viewership for Week 3’s N.F.L. games to a number decidedly better than the same week one year ago. Additionally, polling in the past has shown that while the American public does think that standing during the National Anthem is the preferred behavior, they do not begrudge the players the choice they are making to conduct the protests that began with former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Notwithstanding this rebuke from the American public, Trump is unlikely to stop his attacks on the N.F.L. or the players who have been protesting. For one thing, these attacks serve what seems like a common Trump purpose to divert attention away from apparent failures and toward the kind of culture war issues that inflame his base and result in a plethora of coverage from the media. In this case, it helps Trump in distracting attention away from issues such as the failure of the effort to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act, the ongoing Russia investigation, and the fact that the candidate he backed in yesterday’s runoff election in Alabama ended up losing, an outcome that Trump is reportedly not taking well. Second, as Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman note in The New York Times, these attacks on the N.F.L. fall into a familiar Trump pattern of using divisive rhetoric to shore up his base:
WASHINGTON — President Trump was restless on the flight home from his rally on Friday night in Alabama, griping about the size of the crowd, wondering how his pink tie played with his audience and fretting about the low energy of the Senate candidate he was there to bolster.
But there was one part of the trip that cheered him up, according to three people close to the president: rallygoers’ thunderous approval of his attack on Colin Kaepernick, a former N.F.L. quarterback, for kneeling in protest during the national anthem, a slam punctuated by an epithet-laced suggestion that team owners fire employees who disrespect patriotic tradition.
Over the weekend, Mr. Trump, while with a small group of advisers in the dining room of his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., asked a few members what they thought of his attack on Mr. Kaepernick. The response, according to one Trump associate, was polite but decidedly lukewarm.
Mr. Trump responded by telling people that it was a huge hit with his base, making it clear that he did not mind alienating his critics if it meant solidifying his core support.
“The president’s critics have it wrong,” Kellyanne Conway, a White House adviser who served as Mr. Trump’s campaign manager and pollster in 2016, said Monday. “They call him impulsive. He is intuitive.”
Mr. Trump is seldom at a loss for motives in picking a public fight, and conflict seems to soothe him in the way that it unnerves others. He loved getting a rise from the players and owners who linked arms in solidarity before Sunday’s slate of football games, aides and associates said. His satisfaction was blighted only by the disapproval expressed by his friend Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots.
The president’s provocations are a real-time expression of his emotions in the moment and his feel for a crowd. More than anything, such fights are a reflection of his focus on what it takes to keep his restive populist base behind him, and a ritual of self-preservation intended to divert attention from other, more damaging narratives.
But this time, Mr. Trump, who tends to lash out when attacked, seemed to make his comments during comparative quiescence, with majorities of Americans approving of his response to the recent hurricanes and a stopgap budget deal with Democrats that took leaders in his party by surprise.
But White House officials say the president is deeply worried that his recent show of bipartisanship on the budget and on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals immigration program with two Democratic leaders — Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer — endangers his standing with the base.
Mr. Trump, according to the officials, believes his decision to back Luther Strange — a struggling establishment conservative in the Alabama Senate race and the reason Mr. Trump went to Alabama — makes him appear weak. He has repeatedly expressed unhappiness with his political team for persuading him to back Mr. Strange, who has drawn opposition from many of Mr. Trump’s supporters, including Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, and not his opponent, Roy Moore, a former judge.
For those reasons, Mr. Trump leaned right harder than usual on Friday night. He chided Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for opposing his latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he ridiculed North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as the “Little Rocket Man.” He also offered the most tempered of support for his purported ally, Mr. Strange — “Big Luther” to the president.
But his most conspicuous targets were the highly paid athletes, most of them black, who during the playing of the national anthem at football games have protested police brutality and what they say is the systematic racism behind it. The vehemence was tactical, but also visceral. Mr. Trump has often taken a dim view of race-based protest and, as the onetime owner of a football franchise in a failed start-up league, he believes owners of sports teams should control their employees.
it was a reprise of a formula the president used repeatedly during the 2016 presidential campaign — digging in on one side of an inflammatory issue amid praise from conservatives, and enjoying the spectacle of his critics condemning him.
“He intuitively understands that making compromise with the Democrats is sort of the opposite of what he told his base he was going to do,” said Alex Conant, a veteran Republican consultant who was part of Senator Marco Rubio’s campaign team in 2016.
“It’s not a coincidence that the same week he did the DACA deal that he just flooded Twitter with a bunch of red meat for the base,” Mr. Conant added. “I think his fundamental problem is he needs to figure out ways to grow his base, and his instinct is instead to double down on what he’s already got. Whenever he tacks to the middle, his numbers tick up. But he just can’t bring himself to move beyond his base.”
That is not how Mr. Trump sees it.
In private, the president and his top aides freely admit that he is engaged in a culture war on behalf of his white, working-class base, a New York billionaire waging war against “politically correct” coastal elites on behalf of his supporters in the South and in the Midwest. He believes the war was foisted upon him by former President Barack Obama and other Democrats — and he is determined to win, current and former aides said
CNN’s Chris Cillizza makes a similar argument:
Trump’s decision to start this feud with NFL players — and professional athletes more broadly — is a telling window into how he views (and uses) the power of the presidency: To divide, not to unite. To forever focus on scoring political points, to please and placate the political base that helped elect him to the White House. To always, always, always look for where we disagree — and where those disagreements can be exploited for his own gain.
That is, at root, a fundamental departure from the way that previous presidents have operated.
Every man to hold the White House prior to Trump seemed to have an innate grasp of the power of the presidency and how to use it. Think of the presidency like a lighthouse. Anywhere a president chooses to shine that light will be illuminated. It will drive attention to it and media coverage of it. The bully pulpit may not be as bully-ish as it once was, but when the president prioritizes an issue, it becomes an issue that people and the press can’t ignore.
For most presidents, that means shining a light on our common humanity — whether it’s helping bind the country together after a terrorist attack or a natural disaster or the more mundane daily work of reminding people that much more unites us than divides us.
Trump has inverted that. He seems bent on reminding us on what divides us rather than what unites us.
Trump has a finely-tuned ear for what will resonate with his political base. And casting himself as the voice of the people against rich, entitled and primarily black athletes — yes, of course, race is tied up in this — is a strong place to be for some not-small element of his base.
Whether he wants to admit it to himself or not, Trump is purposely playing on lingering racial resentment and animus in the country to remind people of what divides us. And he is doing so because he knows it will work.
It’s the same reason he suggested he saw Muslims celebrating on New Jersey rooftops on September 11, 2001. And the same reason he failed to condemn white supremacist David Duke for days during the campaign. And why he sought to cast the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville as the result of violent people “on many sides.”
Trump ran as a divider, not a uniter. He won that way — offering safe harbor for people who had long resented politicians who told them they had to accept those who didn’t look like them, sound like them or think like them.
Divisiveness works in politics — especially in a fractured media environment in which you can spend your life never being confronted with a reasonable argument that clashes with your worldview and in a self-sorted America in which we live, work and play around only people who agree with us on, well, everything.
From this point of view, it’s quite easy to understand why Trump decided to jump on the N.F.L. protests even though they had largely died down over the course of last season and that their originator, Colin Kaepernick, is not currently an active player on any team. Much like politicians who jumped on the flag burning bandwagon in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas v. Johnson in 1990, this is the kind of red meat political issue that tends to rile up what is essentially the same white working-class base that Trump relies upon as his core supporters. Additionally, it plays to the racial divisions that exist over the issues that the kneeling protesters are seeking to bring to the attention of the public, such as police misconduct and abuse and the continued fact that African-American males specifically are disproportionately targeted by police and disproportionately the victims of police shooting incidents, especially those that occur under questionable circumstances.
Without fail, polling has shown that while Americans as a whole are concerned about these issues, the reaction is quite different among Republicans, conservatives, and most especially that segments of both of those groups that have been among Trump’s most loyal supporters from the time he entered the race for President. Finally, as Thrush and Haberman note, Trump has come under criticism from some quarters of his base for his recent decisions to cut deals with Democrats on issues such as the budget and debt ceiling and on a legislative solution to his decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Appeals to the base such as this help to divert attention from those complaints, and to return attention to the culture war that Trump is clearly profiting from. As long as that’s the case, we can expect him to continue to use his speeches and his Twitter account to divide the nation and energize his base. While this is a formula that may help Trump politically, it isn’t good for the nation as a whole and will only lead to even wider political and cultural polarization. What that means for the future is anyone’s guess.