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Trump's Alleged Affairs And GOP Voters


President Trump is now facing accusations from three women about matters relating to sex. There are allegations of harassment. There are allegations of paying hush money to keep consensual affairs out of the news. Now, despite all that, a CNN poll out this week shows the president's approval ratings have improved. They've ticked up to 42 percent. So big, outstanding question is how President Trump's standing could affect Republican candidates in the midterm elections.

Scott Jennings is here with us to try and help answer that question. He's a Republican political strategist, and he served as special assistant to President George W. Bush. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Hey, good morning.

KING: All right. So I will note that the polls are inexact and that this 42 percent approval rating is only in the CNN survey. It's not elsewhere. But these are the president's highest ratings for this poll in 11 months. What's going on?

JENNINGS: Yeah, no question he's seen a fairly significant and statistically significant uptick in mid-December. The president was sitting in the high 30s. Most surveys now - and the averages have him around 42 percent. So despite all the stormy weather, so to speak, he's sailed through it and gone up a few ticks. And it's probably because the economy is humming along. All the economic news has been good. And the tax cut, frankly, I think was popular with more voters than folks might have imagined.

KING: OK. So the economy is big, and yet there are still these these allegations. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, led the daily press briefing yesterday. And a reporter asked her why is the president being so quiet about these allegations from the adult film star, Stormy Daniels. Here what she said.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: There's nothing else to add. Just because you guys continue to ask the same question over and over and over again doesn't mean that we have to keep coming up with new things to say. We've addressed it extensively, and there's nothing new to add to this conversation.

KING: I mean, the thing that's so interesting, Scott, is that the president is not shy about confronting critics, about people who come at him. Why is he not responding to Stormy Daniels?

JENNINGS: Well, I think probably because there are legal implications. I mean, obviously there are a number of lawsuits laying out there. And if I were the president and I were facing down the possibility of depositions and other legal entanglements, I might take my lawyer's advice. That doesn't mean he's always done that in the past on other issues. But, certainly, in this case, I think most voters, most Americans, probably believe that this affair happened. They probably believe largely what Daniels says. They're probably more skeptical about some of the threats that she laid out. But it seems to me that people have basically judged Donald Trump in this case - is who we thought he was. And they're moving on and not holding it against him.

KING: Are Republican officials concerned, though? I mean, at some point, could people start holding it against him? I wonder in particular about women. You know, suburban, married, white women are a very important voting bloc for Republican candidates. Women are obviously paying a lot of attention to this story. Is there a sense that this could hurt - that this could hurt the party with women?

JENNINGS: Yeah, no question about it. For Democrats to take back the Congress this year, they need to try to alter the composition of the electorate a little bit. We've seen them do that in some of the special elections and off-year elections. In the Virginia governor's race last year, in fact, about 300,000 people turned out that had no demonstrable history of voting in a Virginia governor's race. A lot of them were young, suburban women. These kinds of stories would help Democrats try to coax people to the polls - in this case, women - in the suburbs who wouldn't ordinarily vote in a midterm. If they're able to do that, it puts a lot of suburban districts in play that Republicans of course would have to spend money to defend. So I think that that's where the Democratic push is going to be. Can we get women who wouldn't vote to come to the polls because they have a distaste for the president's engagements with women over the years?

KING: What would be your guess there?

JENNINGS: Oh, I definitely think that there is a separation going on right now with a lot of female voters in the Republican Party. My advice to House candidates that have significant suburbs would be, if you have these kinds of populations in your district, suburban populations, you need to try to deal with that now. Do not assume that things are going to get better. Historically, in midterms for a president - good anyway. The environment tells me that it could be bad again.

KING: Scott Jennings is a Republican political strategist, who's also a resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics. Thank you, Scott.

JENNINGS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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