WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some things are true even if Newt Gingrich says they are. In August, the former Speaker—a man for whom the phrase “no whit abashed” is a business model—threw shade on Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign. “President Trump got 68.63% in West Virginia,” he tweeted in his usual, delicate style, “4.8% in Washington DC [sic]. Guess where Mueller has a grand jury? Guess how biased it will be?”
More than a few respectable voices were raised at the time about a former Speaker (and self-proclaimed Constitutionalist) attacking the very basis of republican government. But Gingrich had at least stumbled on an essential fact: Trump isn’t just unpopular here in the District; he’s despised.
That seems at least worth mentioning as Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, takes his turn in the dock.
There are 680,000-some souls in the District of Columbia. The portrait of the “average” citizen has changed in the past few decades — the city has become increasingly whiter and richer — but one trait hasn’t changed: The District remains a Democratic stronghold. In 2014, more than 76 percent of all District voters were registered as Democrats. In local elections, Republicans — just 6 percent of registered voters—are sometimes outdone by the Green Party.
Nonetheless, Trump still managed to underperform in the District. His 4.8 percent total last year was the lowest for a Republican presidential candidate in the District, ever. (District residents only won the right to vote in presidential elections in 1961; we still await, alas, the right to a vote in Congress.) It’s true that the share of Republican votes in the District has been on a steady decline since 1972 (when Nixon won nearly 22 percent of the vote), but Trump’s dip is still remarkable. In 2004, George W. Bush won more than 9 percent of the vote; McCain won about 6.5 percent in 2008 and Mitt Romney more than 7 percent in 2012.
Recall that Romney and McCain were running against Barack Obama, a man who enjoyed near-universal adoration here in the District. His lunch outings with Michelle Obama frequently stopped traffic for blocks around and made the fortunes of more than one eatery here. Given the District’s toxic racial history, any conservative Republican would have found himself or herself uncomfortable in the capital. (George W. Bush and Laura Bush, for instance, rarely dined out in the District, instead dragging themselves across the state lines to the suburbs of northern Virginia.)
But it’s simply impossible to overstate just how much Trump is hated here in the District. People of goodwill can disagree about the merits of that hatred; the plain fact is, Washington under Trump sometimes feels like an occupied city, with even its most respectable citizens ready to unleash a torrent of abuse upon “Trumpkins.” (I do a fair bit of abusing myself: I offer the mote in my eye).
Trump probably deserves criticism for dining out at his own properties. But, given the feelings of local D.C. (and its suburbs, by the way), it’s hard to think of any other place in the vicinity where he could enjoy a quiet meal.
Newt Gingrich might have been able to warn Trump about this. More than any other figure, he helped personalize conservative politics in the modern age. (How often one hears from D.C.’s Old Guard about those dead days when Bob Michel broke bread with Dan Rostenkowski and “bipartisanship” was the order of the day.) Gingrich himself was eventually brought low by the same political forces he unleashed and now seems intent on playing the role of a right-wing Falstaff. But he at least seems to have glimpsed the depths of feelings here about the current president.
If Paul Manafort — and, by proxy, Trump himself — face a hostile jury pool, though, it won’t be because of “bias.” It’ll be because of the old political wisdom that those who radiate contempt have a habit of attracting it.
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