Trump’s Fine-Tuned Machine Runs Like an Oil-Burning Jalopy

Mainstream Republicans enjoy some told-you-so moments, but soon they’ll have to take ownership of their unconventional president.

President Trump speaks during a news conference Thursday in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Charlie Cook
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Charlie Cook
Feb. 16, 2017, 8 p.m.

As a can­did­ate, Don­ald Trump thor­oughly en­joyed dis­mant­ling and tor­tur­ing the Re­pub­lic­an wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. But now that chaos, tur­moil, and in­eptitude have be­come the watch­words for his White House—not­with­stand­ing his as­ser­tion Thursday that it “is run­ning like a fine-tuned ma­chine”—the tar­gets of his barbs were giv­ing each oth­er “I told you so” glances.

By way of cor­rob­or­a­tion, they poin­ted to Pres­id­ent Trump’s job-ap­prov­al rat­ings. A Feb. 7-12 Pew poll of 1,503 adults put it at just 39 per­cent, with 56 per­cent ex­press­ing dis­ap­prov­al. Those are as­ton­ish­ing num­bers com­pared to Pew’s ap­prove-dis­ap­prove num­bers at this point for Pres­id­ents Obama (64 to 17 per­cent), George W. Bush (53 to 21 per­cent), Clin­ton (56 to 25 per­cent), and George H.W. Bush (63 to 13 per­cent). Pew’s find­ings com­port with Gal­lup’s track­ing num­bers for Feb. 14-16 (40 per­cent ap­prov­al to 54 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al).

In­ter­est­ingly, 84 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans and Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers ap­prove of Trump’s job per­form­ance, while 88 per­cent of Demo­crats and Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing in­de­pend­ents dis­ap­prove. Among in­de­pend­ents that don’t lean to either party, 35 per­cent ap­prove and 59 per­cent dis­ap­prove.

Trump did bet­ter in a Feb. 11-13 Fox News poll that showed 48 per­cent ap­prov­al and 47 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al. The Fox poll was re­stric­ted to re­gistered voters while the oth­er two meas­ured all adults, a some­what less Re­pub­lic­an co­hort.

Pew com­pared Trump’s traits and abil­it­ies with those of his pre­de­cessors. On be­ing trust­worthy, Obama scored 76 per­cent, George W. Bush 60 per­cent, and Clin­ton 63 per­cent. Trump trailed with just 37 per­cent. When it came to be­ing well in­formed, Obama got a 79 per­cent rat­ing, Bush 62 per­cent, and Clin­ton 79 per­cent. Again, Trump was far be­hind, with a score of 39 per­cent. On be­ing “able to get things done,” Obama got a grade of 70 per­cent and Bush 60 per­cent, while Trump again trailed with 54 per­cent. (Pew didn’t ask that ques­tion about Clin­ton). On be­ing “a good com­mu­nic­at­or,” Obama was off the charts at 92 per­cent and Clin­ton hit 84 per­cent. Trump again lagged badly with 34 per­cent. (Bush wasn’t in the sample.)

Es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans cer­tainly don’t wish ill for the coun­try or their party, and they un­der­stand that over time they will be seen as own­ing, or at least be­ing re­spons­ible for, Trump’s pres­id­ency. But for now they are en­joy­ing the misery in­side the White House on the grounds that it couldn’t hap­pen to a more de­serving group of people.

Even so, Trump’s Thursday news con­fer­ence had to be a bit un­set­tling for Re­pub­lic­ans on Cap­it­ol Hill and in state cap­it­ols around the coun­try. It was more than a newly launched ship hav­ing routine chal­lenges on its shake­down cruise. Trump’s ship was tak­ing on wa­ter. It sure wasn’t a “fine-tuned ma­chine.”

The con­ven­tion­al wing of the party takes some com­fort in the fact that a con­sid­er­able num­ber of high-caliber people have been named to key Cab­in­et slots, and Mike Pence rep­res­ents safe hands as vice pres­id­ent. Pence, Sec­ret­ary of State Rex Tiller­son, De­fense Sec­ret­ary James Mat­tis, Sec­ret­ary of Treas­ury Steve Mnuchin, Na­tion­al Eco­nom­ic Com­mis­sion Dir­ect­or Gary Cohn, and Sec­ret­ary of Trans­port­a­tion Elaine Chao, among oth­ers, could con­sti­tute a crit­ic­al mass of adults in the room—if Trump listens to them. Re­pub­lic­ans sighed with re­lief when Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil Ad­viser Mi­chael Flynn was giv­en a pink slip.

One area of strength for Trump in the Pew poll was that 60 per­cent be­lieve he “keeps prom­ises,” com­pared to 31 per­cent who said he didn’t. Of the nine traits meas­ured, his weak­est was “even-tempered,” with just 28 per­cent say­ing he was and 68 per­cent say­ing he wasn’t.

Among whites, as­sess­ments of Trump var­ied ac­cord­ing to levels of edu­ca­tion­al at­tain­ment. Forty-five per­cent of those with a high school dip­loma or less had a fa­vor­able opin­ion of Trump, while 52 per­cent viewed him un­fa­vor­ably. Among those with some col­lege, Trump scored 41 per­cent fa­vor­able and 56 per­cent un­fa­vor­able. Among col­lege gradu­ates, 36 per­cent were fa­vor­able, 62 per­cent un­fa­vor­able. Just 31 per­cent of those with post-gradu­ate edu­ca­tion had fa­vor­able views, com­pared to 68 per­cent who didn’t.

Re­pub­lic­an schaden­freude at Trump’s bum­bling will ne­ces­sar­ily be brief. His ad­min­is­tra­tion will be a cross that they’ll have to bear for the next 47 months, and easy, peace­ful days may be few and far between. Even when things are go­ing well, they know that a pres­id­en­tial tweet or off­hand com­ment will cause a lot of Maalox mo­ments and fit­ful nights. At some point, they may won­der wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans ac­tu­ally won or lost the elec­tion. Hav­ing your man in the White House is sup­posed to mean happy days, but the sur­prises in Trump’s real­ity show work bet­ter on TV than they do in polit­ics.

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