Trump Off to Historically Bad Start

Dana Milbank collected a (still incomplete) list of all the people Trump has insulted and gloated over since we won his surprising election in early November. As I read it, I kept having the same experience: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that one.” It’s more evidence that the specifics of the insults don’t matter. What’s important is that he’s always on offense. He’s always giving his audience more.

It’s true that this demonstrates continuity with this approach to the campaign, but it also makes him a sore winner. And very few people like sore winners. Milbank probably puts too much emphasis on this one point as he uses it to explain Trump’s astonishingly bad poll numbers, but it’s a factor.

Looking back, it will also be hard to judge the way the Bush presidency handled winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote because the 9/11 attacks reshaped everything. But he was struggling by Labor Day of 2001. In late may, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont was already so incensed by the way Bush was handling the presidency that he defected from the Republican Party and handed control of the Senate over to the Democrats. By late-August, a rift had opened up between Colin Powell at the State Department and the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis. The overall perception was that Bush was acting as if he’d won some giant mandate that simply didn’t exist, and that he wasn’t doing enough to reach out to those who had opposed his presidency. It was beginning to cost him.

Trump may need some unifying event like 9/11 to have any hope of governing with anything approaching approval from the American people.

Compared with other presidents, Trump’s handling of the transition has been judged harshly by respondents. As with his favorable rating, 40 percent say they approve and 54 percent disapprove. In comparison, roughly 8 in 10 approved of the way Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush handled their transitions. And about 7 in 10 approved of the way former president George W. Bush handled his, even though it came amid the rancorous 37-day recount of ballots in Florida and a controversial Supreme Court decision that helped put him in the Oval Office…

…So far, Trump has generated little confidence about his ability to make sound decisions as president. When asked generally about their faith in his decision-making, just under 4 in 10 say they have either a “great deal” or a “good amount” of confidence in him, and about 6 in 10 say they have “just some” or “none at all.” That is the mirror opposite of attitudes eight years ago on the eve of Obama’s first inauguration.

It hard to say what factors have played the biggest role in this disapproval. It’s important to remember that 70% to 80% of the people have traditionally given good marks to previous transitions. That means that Trump has failed in getting any honeymoon from people who opposed him. In fact, a higher percentage voted for him than approve of how he’s handling the job so far.

Some things are obviously beyond his control, but the people he’s chosen to serve in his administration must be as important as how he’s conducted himself on Twitter. He wants to gloat more than mend fences, it’s true, but his appointments are their own form of revenge and disrespect. In many cases, they also seem to betray the messages and promises he made on the campaign trail, which may explain why he’s lost support from so many of his own voters.

The way he’s tormenting our allies in Asia and Europe could also be having an effect, especially among more establishment and cosmopolitan Republicans.

However you look at it, he’s off to a miserable start and it’s hard to see how things can get better from here.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.