It’s amazing how far a few small rhetorical gestures can go.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Wednesday suggests 45 percent of American voters view North Korea as an enemy, down 14 percentage points from a month ago. The survey of 1,993 registered voters, conducted Thursday through Monday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 points.
In five previous Morning Consult polls dating to July, the share of voters who viewed North Korea as an enemy of the United States ranged between 59 percent and 65 percent.
The latest survey came before North Korea threatened to pull the plug on a summit planned for next month between its leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Donald Trump.
Olivia Enos, a policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, said the latest maneuver by the North Koreans serves as a reminder that the regime cannot be trusted. She said she believes the poll results reflect media attention on the planned summit and unrealistic expectations.
“It’s a truly evil regime,” she said. “It’s understandable that people would respond to that [the expectations], but it’s not warranted … Expectations have been raised so much.”
North Korea took the world by surprise this week, canceling planned meetings with South Korean officials and complaining about military exercises that the United States and South Korea jointly carry out every year.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump reacted cautiously. “We haven’t seen anything,” he told reporters who shouted questions at the White House. “We haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens … Time will tell.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders separately told reporters that the administration is operating under the assumption that the summit still will take place.
“This is something that we fully expected. The president is very used to and ready for tough negotiations,” she said. “And if they want to meet, we’ll be ready. And if they don’t, that’s OK, too. We’ll continue with the campaign of maximum pressure if that’s the case.”
Trump came into office aggressively challenging North Korea and reversing long-standing U.S. policy. He turned heads with rhetoric that included promising “fire and fury” in response to any North Korean attack and labeling Kim “Little Rocket Man.”
“We know that North Korea’s been emboldened by so many domestic critics of President Trump.”
The new tone — coupled with crippling sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council — appeared to spark a change. Kim began talking peace, sent his sister on a charm offensive in South Korea during the Winter Olympics, and made a dramatic offer to met with Trump one-on-one.
Then he walked across the Demilitarized Zone and met with his counterpart in South Korea, pledging formally to end the Korean War.
Kim also released three imprisoned Americans and declared that his country would halt nuclear tests.
But for all the talk, Enos said, Kim has delivered remarkably little in concrete results. She said Americans should be clear-eyed about a regime that currently holds 80,000 to 120,000 people in prison camps.
Enos said North Korea is unlikely to follow through on significant concessions unless Kim feels he has no choice. She said that means better cooperation from North Korea’s chief benefactor, China.
Enos said the administration has not taken all of the steps it could to try to leverage that cooperation.
“They have stopped short of going after Chinese banks that have been acting as conduits for North Korean money laundering,” she said.
The Morning Consult/Politico poll suggests that most voters do not believe Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. But 51 percent of respondents said they have a lot of or some confidence in Trump’s ability to handle threats posed by North Korea. That is up from 45 percent in March and 8 points higher than the president’s overall approval rating.
Michael Pillsbury, director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, said Wednesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that Trump would be strengthened by unified support from his political opponents in the United States.
“We know that North Korea’s been emboldened by so many domestic critics of President Trump,” he said. “He still doesn’t have a resolution of support from the Democrats in the Senate. And what it looks like to the North Koreans is a president under siege.”