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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