When Obama announced in May of 2011 that SEAL Team Six had successfully killed Osama bin Laden, his approval rating jumped seven points in one poll, and nine in another. He reached highs that he hadn’t seen since his first year in office.
On Sunday, Donald Trump announced that American forces successfully killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State.
The comparison seems clear; two presidents, each a year away from re-election, each muddling with a low-40s approval rating. But will al-Baghdadi’s death actually change anything for Trump?
Some credit the killing of bin Laden with returning Obama to the White House a year and a half later. While his presidency could have easily stalled mid-flight and nosedived, they argue, the successful SEAL Team Six operation got him back on track, avoiding a catastrophe for the Democratic party.
But in reality, that’s not the case.
While Obama saw a large jump in his approval ratings — mostly coming from Republicans, whose approval jumped 11 points — the gains dissipated over the next two months, returning the President to where he sat before. If Obama gained any momentum from the operation, he did not succeed in maintaining it.
Even if Trump’s situation was similar to Obama’s, he wouldn’t stand to gain. But in many ways, this week’s revelations are completely different.
Primarily, consider the voters of 2019.
After nearly three years of a Trump presidency, voters are, at this point, ensconced in their views.
There is little that can change how voters perceive President Trump, and even among the chaos of the impeachment inquiry, his approval rating has dropped less than a point since early September. It takes a lot to change a voter’s mind in today’s environment.
And past the background differences between the two cases, al-Baghdadi is very different from bin Laden. The leader of al Qaeda had been sitting in the public conscience for nearly a decade as the figure head for the worst terrorist attack in American history. In contrast, I had no idea who al-Baghdadi was when I first saw the news.
This isn’t to say there is no benefit to Trump and the Republicans for this news. It’ll likely serve as a brief reprise for the administration after weeks of continuous disaster, and it’ll give the Republican PR machine time to get its footing.
Even that is uncertain, though: The Democrats began the process of making the inquiry public, and will take a formal vote on the inquiry Thursday. Just as quickly as the good news came, it’s gone.
These factors make it clear that while the news of al-Baghdadi’s death is a very positive development and a clear win for the Trump administration, it will likely do little to change anything.
Trump’s approval rating will stay the same.
The impeachment inquiry will continue, if not gain steam, as revelations become public and more witnesses testify. And with the election still a year away, we won’t remember any of this when the time comes to cast a vote on November 3, 2020.
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