By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – To win elections, a candidate has to carry 90% or more of his or her base. And then there are the independent voters, a group growing as polarization encroaches on the two major parties.

With a gangbuster economy and middle class wages finally going up, conventional wisdom would be that President Trump would be a mid-term Midas. But the cascading controversies have become the new norm with President Trump just two weeks after he journeyed to Indiana to campaign in the U.S. Senate race. The question  less than 60 days out from the mid-term is whether this new norm would impact voters on Nov. 6.

Two polls this week, by CNN and Quinnipiac - suggest that they will. They come just as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bob Woodward began making the first of dozens of TV interviews on his new book “Fear,” which reveals a White House in disarray and chaos, with Trump trusting only a shrinking inner circle.

The CNN Poll released Monday revealed that Trump is in free-fall with independent voters. His approval among that group fell from 47% in August to 31% when the poll was taken Sept. 6-9 nationally. His job approval sank from 42% last month to 36%. That data set corresponds with the NBC/Marist Poll in Indiana last week that showed U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly with 59% of independent voters and 65% of suburbanites, two crucial voting blocs in his race against Republican challenger Mike Braun.

A new Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday showed women supporting congressional Democrats by a 55-35% margin. Democrats have also opened up a 14% congressinal generic lead in that poll.

Trump’s epic 2016 upset was fueled by independent voters. According to exit polls, 46% of independents backed Trump while Democrat Hillary Clinton had 42%. It was enough to help crack the “blue wall” in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

This story overlaps the Indiana Senate race, as Braun was running a statewide TV ad with a President Trump voiceover and video from the Aug. 30 MAGA rally in Evansville, featuring the president and candidate. While Trump was getting gashed with independent and moderate voters, Braun appeared to be shoring up his Trump base. And that came with Trump appearing in Braun’s backyard in an area of the state he easily carried in the primary, as opposed to Indianapolis and the normally Republican stronghold doughnut counties that fit the “suburban” reference point.

The Quinnipiac Poll released on Tuesday showed Trump’s disapprove/approve numbers sag to 54/38%, compared to 54/41% on Aug. 14. It also revealed that 55% believed the anonymous op-ed allegations by a “senior aide, as opposed to 28% who don’t, while 51% believe that clandestine official should state the allegations publicly. The only group in disbelief were Republicans, 52-27%. “American voters believe those tales of intrigue coming from the Trump White House, but they think it’s wrong to tell those tales anonymously,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

And here’s another metric that should greatly concern Republicans about the Quinnipiac Poll: 70% believe the economy is either “excellent” or “good,” which in normal times would be a significant tailwind for a president and his party. It matches an all-time high. In the CNN Poll, 69% believe the economy is good, including 69% of independents and 74% of moderates.

“There’s a huge disconnect,” Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow and public opinion polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, told Bloomberg Politics. “The economy doesn’t seem to be dominating in a way that it often does in elections.”

The CNN poll reveals more of why the economic numbers aren’t a salve for Trump-embracing GOP candidates. On the question of whether they can be “proud” to have Trump as president, 28% of independents and 25% of moderates agreed, while 68% and 72% said no. Does Trump “respect the rule of law?” Some 61% of independents and 71% of moderates said no, compared to 35% and 26% who answered affirmatively.

CNN asked: Is President Trump “honest and trustworthy?” Only 32% of respondents said yes and 65% said no, including just 27% of independents and 24% of moderates. While Trump had an 87% approval among Republicans, only 72% believe he is honest and trustworthy with 24% saying no.

When it comes to Trump’s handling of foreign trade, which would include his tariffs, CNN found 35% approving and 53% disapproving, including 35% of independents, just 74% of Republicans and 28% of moderates. Only 36% approve of the way Trump is handling foreign affairs (including just 33% of independents and 31% of moderates). And on immigration, where the child/parent separations generated headlines since last spring, 35% approve and 59% disapprove, with only 29% of independents and 27% of moderates approving. 

Only on the economy, by a 49-44% margin in the CNN Poll, did President Trump have an edge.

In both CNN and Quinnipiac polls, Trump’s approval had edged into the low- to mid-40th percentile in August, while NBC/Wall Street Journal put Trump’s approval at 44% and 46% in the final week of August, while Fox News had him at 45% and Economist/YouGov had him at 44%.

Over the summer, the impacts of his summit with North Korean despot Kim Jong Un, the Helsinki summit with Russian President Putin, the child separation issues, the conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of his fixer/attorney Michael Cohen unfolded. The NYT op-ed and Bob Woodward’s book “Fear” surfaced just before or as these polls were in the field, with the ramifications there not fully set. 

Are the CNN and Quinnipiac polls the so-called outliers? It’s more of a continuation, with ABC/Washington Post putting Trump’s approval at 38% last week down from 44% in April, while 60% disapprove. Gallup’s rolling seven-day average has Trump’s approval at 40%. Rasmussen puts his approval at 47%.

Political analyst and author John Heilemann explained, “After Helsinki and the kids in cages at the border, you have the high 30s approving, which is his core. What we’re seeing now as we get closer and closer to Election Day is the accumulated weight of scandals and controversies and outrages and things that for a lot of voters make the difference between being in the mid-to-low 50s as opposed to the mid-to-high 30s.” 

Heilemann added, “The gravity of it has sunk in over time. The reason it is sinking in is we’re getting closer and closer to a decision point. We see this in presidential years and we see it sometimes in mid-term year, especially ones that are acutely referendums on the incumbent.”

Heilemann said that after Labor Day, voters “are taking stock of the totality and that is weighting him down.”

The other change may be the “hold-your-nose” voters who opted for Trump in 2016 and then gave the president about 18 months to show what he could do. In his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, they opted for Trump, but with the accumulated weight of controversy and scandal, they are fleeing the president’s corner.

“Trump goes so hard for his base in the raucous rallies,” notes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “It obviously works for the base, but it’s turning people off. Trump has his base, but increasingly that’s all he’s got.” 

CNN analyst Chris Cillizza observed in late July that only two presidents have had significantly higher approval ratings on the economy as compared to their overall approval: Trump and Bill Clinton in July 1998. “The Clinton result is easily explained; he was in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal,” Cillizza noted. “So people liked how the economy was doing (and gave him credit for it) but were less willing to say they approved of him as heartily.” 

Cillizza adds: “People seem to be reacting negatively to the full package of Trump, which crowds out their positive reaction to the job he is doing on the economy. If he could take the focus off his tweets, the Russia investigation and the like, and steer all of his rhetorical firepower onto the state of the economy, he and the Republican Party he leads would likely be in a much better place today.”

Indiana impacts

Two months out, HPI’s Horse Race still gives all congressional incumbents in the House strong edges, and Sen. Donnelly appears to be keeping his nose above water. though that race is still a pure tossup. The 2011 maps are a clear blessing for the seven House incumbents.

While we believe it’s still too early to determine, one way or another, that a wave will manifest (and we are ever mindful that the 2016 “blue wave” became a red tide), from this point on we will watch to see if Trump’s approval is a simple headwind, or the beginning of an accumulated millstone. 

At this point, it’s a fluid situation in what are abnormal times.