Way back in February 2016, with Donald Trump in the early stages of his hostile takeover of the Republican Party, Robert Kagan, the sharpest of the neoconservative intellectuals, took to the pages of The Washington Post to denounce the mogul from Manhattan as "the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics."
Since he launched his improbable but ludicrously successful foray into presidential politics, Trump has sold himself, in part, as a wildly successful businessman whose perspicacity about money making would serve him well in making deals on behalf of the United States and the American people. Sure, there were the string of bankruptcy filings in his past, which his critics never failed to bring up. Yet Trump sat atop a business empire, with properties around the world, claiming to be a billionaire and refusing to release tax returns that could either confirm or expose his big talk as so much nonsense.
Reviewing tax returns from 1985 to 1994, the Times has discovered that "year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer." You heard that right: Of all the tens of millions of taxpayers in America during those nine years, the man who a little more than two decades later would go onto to become the 45th president of the United States was quite possibly the country's biggest loser. Which, given his 2016 election pitch, has to make him one of America's all-time greatest con men as well.
But will it matter politically? Almost certainly not.
If House Democrats are able to get their hands on more recent tax returns and they turn up evidence of criminality, then we may — may — have a ball game, something that hurts the president and sticks to him and maybe even turns a few Republicans against him. But what the Times has unearthed from more than two decades ago? With no evidence of anything overtly illegal? With proof only that Trump is an artistic grand master of BS? You've got to be kidding.
Six weeks ago, Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up his nearly two-year investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. This investigation failed to establish outright conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian intelligence services. But it did demonstrate in excruciating detail that members of the campaign wished to collude with the Russians, that they were grateful for any and all help Russian President Vladimir Putin's minions might provide them in attempting to defeat Hillary Clinton, and that Trump himself very clearly and on numerous occasions acted to obstruct the Justice Department's investigation of the entire episode.
All of this is plain as day in the Mueller report. And how has it affected the president's approval rating? In FiveThirtyEight's aggregate of polls, Trump's approval was 42 percent on the eve of the report's completion, it remained steady through the initial pro-Trump spin of Attorney General William Barr, and it sank to a low of 41.1 percent on April 30, 11 days after the full (redacted) report was made public. But since then, it has rebounded. As of Tuesday afternoon, Trump's approval had risen to 42.9 percent, its highest level since November 25, 2018.
Take a moment to let that sink in: Less than three weeks after release of a nearly 400-page report documenting behavior on the part of the president that demonstrates numerous acts of possible criminality and many more examples of behavior that transgresses the bounds of ethics, propriety, and patriotism, Donald Trump has hit a nearly six-month high in his approval rating.
Yes, that rating is low by historic standards. But its current level is near Trump's post-election ceiling, and that tells us something important about his presidency — something that should be obvious by now to all informed observers: His supporters just don't care. He's been metaphorically shooting people on Fifth Ave. for years now and getting away with it. And it really isn't clear what, if anything, could alter this reality.
Over and over again we end up in new versions of the same old situation: Those who already deeply despise the president hope and wait for some new story, revelation, or investigation that will finally, at long last, destroy him politically, sending his approval rating plunging through the 30s down to the catastrophic levels Richard Nixon reached in the final weeks and months before he resigned in the face of near-certain impeachment and removal from office.
But there's no sign of it happening in the country at large, and least of all among members of his own party, who continue to approve of Trump's performance at the historically high rate of 90 percent. The sad fact is that we have, at this point, very little reason to think this is ever going to change.
Not even after The New York Times has confirmed that for a time in the 1980s and '90s Trump was the biggest loser of all.