December 8, 2016
Trump has signaled he’s going far right since the day after he was elected. Nearly every statement, nearly every appointment, and nearly everything his fervent supporters say points to a very aggressively right-wing agenda. And as Hillary Clinton said during the election, this is not a surprise. We know who this man is. We know the sorts of things he stands for, and the things he doesn’t. So his governing stance is not news to anyone who has been paying attention.
But if I was expecting 90% hardliners and 10% moderates, it’s feeling more like 100% hardliners at this point. Most recently he put an EPA critic in charge of the EPA, and a labor critic in charge of labor. And this morning he’s fighting via Twitter with a union leader who called him a liar for how he described the carrier deal.
So he’s as thin skinned as we all knew, as radically far right as he said he would be, and that means his fans are pretty happy. No one else is.
Polling on his cabinet picks shows 40% approval. Obama was at 71%. Bush Junior was at 58%, after a bruising Gore vs Bush 2000 election, and a loss of the popular vote. Clinton hit 64%. Bush Sr hit 59%. 40% is historically, epically bad. Try this for context:
Both W and Trump pleased about 80% of Republican voters with their cabinet choices. But Democrats approved W’s cabinet somewhat, registering 44%. On the other hand, Trump’s support from Democrats is all the way down at 11%.
So what, right? It’s not like a Republican president cares about the feelings of Democrats, right? Well, yes and no. Obviously a far right candidate isn’t going to pick a far left cabinet. But we’re a divided country. You can vote Republican and think gay people don’t deserve electric “conversion therapy.” You can vote for a Democrat and believe in a hawkish military policy. And elections are won and lost in a few swing states in the middle, not by appealing to blood red states like Wyoming or deep blue states like California.
Then take a look at these numbers about how people are feeling about Trump’s rise:
So that means 14% are the hardliners. They’re the ones you see making a lot of noise online. And they’re not all white nationalists and nazis, of course. But white nationalists and nazis are pretty clearly in the “excited” category alongside his other most ardent fans.
33% are hopeful, which makes a lot of sense. I’d guess part of that number are Trump fans who are waiting to see what he is going to do to make America great again. But it probably also has some number of people who didn’t vote for him, but are giving him the benefit of the doubt for now.
If we combine “excited” and “hopeful” together, they add up to 47%, which is nearly the size of his popular vote total. But if you add “concerned” and “scared” together, the number is 49%. That’s the percentage of America who voted for Hillary Clinton. See how her number is larger? Let’s talk about that.
There’s no one in modern history with a weaker mandate than this man. He lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, by last count. Despite a big surge in approval numbers, he’s still underwater.
President approval ratings go down as surely as gravity pulls an object back down to earth. Bill Clinton is one of the only modern exceptions I can find. He entered office below 60%, immediately dropped under 40%, then see-sawed his way over 8 years until riding off into the sunset at about 65%. But he’s the exception that proves the rule.
Presidents get a boost at the beginning, then go down. And of course war helps. 9/11 helped W. Iraq helped his dad. Just like no one should be surprised to see Trump being petty on Twitter or showing clear conflicts of interest, no one will be surprised when he leads the country to war. But I wonder if America will support him. A 9/11-sized attack will stir us into action, but people forget how deeply unpopular the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were around the country. And it’s still pretty fresh in our minds.
I have no doubt Trump will take us to war, especially as a response to terrorism. I have no doubt he’ll get a polling bump if he does. But the question is how long that bump works for him. And if people turn against him quicker than they did for W’s war, which led to landslide victories for Democrats, and the emergence of a young Senator named Barack Obama.