Forget the honeymoon, Donald Trump is already unpopular.
According to Gallup in a poll taken in early January, Trump’s transition into the presidency had an approval rating of 44 percent, nearly 40 points lower than Barack Obama’s, which stood at 83 percent at about the same time in January 2009 during his transition into the White House.
Even George W. Bush, whose disputed election in 2000 took weeks to resolve, had an approval rating 21 points higher than Trump’s—65 percent in early January 2001. And Bill Clinton, who only won with 43 percent of the popular vote in 1992, had 68 percent approval as he approached his inauguration.
Aside from his abrasive public persona, I think his lack of the traditional honeymoon with the media and the public can be attributed to three obvious things:
• Trump came far short of a majority in the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won that by well over 2 million votes. The Electoral College, not a popular majority, elected Trump.
• Fake news fueled a distrust in the mainstream media so that all facts, not just made-up ones, got distorted or discredited, and it took its toll on Hillary Clinton (and, of course, the press) most of all.
• It has become increasingly evident that outside forces helped Trump win the election. Vladimir Putin and his Russian hackers, along with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, sought to do harm to Clinton’s campaign and were quite effective. Then James Comey and the FBI put the nail in Hillary’s coffin with their election-eve antics.
These and other more disturbing revelations have taken on a life of their own, and have led many questioning the outcome of the election itself. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is now saying it wasn’t a “legitimate election” and he and a dozen other Democrats have declared they will boycott Trump’s inauguration.
The way in which Trump got elected is disconcerting indeed. I personally despise the results, but so far I’m not convinced it was an illegitimate election. Enough American voters, however uninformed or misinformed, cast their ballots for Trump to give him a legitimate win in enough states to put him over the top as the Electoral College requires. It’s certainly not the first time misguided and misinformed voters have elected a commander in chief, and it won’t be the last.
Nevertheless, the president-elect has an uphill climb to get the nation behind him, and his coziness with Putin isn’t helping. But he’s got a couple of things that he could turn in his favor. One is the economy; if he can facilitate the creation of enough good-paying jobs, he’ll turn around his approval ratings in a hurry.
The other is his conquered Republican Party, which means he now owns the House and Senate as well as the White House. If they play their political cards right, and can manipulate the “facts” to their advantage, more people will come to their side.
A fly in the GOP ointment, however, could be Republicans who still place the nation’s interests, and real truths, above their party’s interests and spin. I’m not sure how many there are left, but they’re out there—and they could turn on Trump if he goes down the wrong path.
John McCain, the senator from our neighboring state of Arizona, might be one, but we’ll have to see. If he kowtows to Trump simply for the sake of political expediency, consider him bought and sold. But if he’s truly a patriot, unafraid to stand up to the morally bankrupt members of his party, he could do Trump a lot of harm. As the Senate Armed Services committee chair, McCain could have a lot to do with what we learn about Russia and its possible connections to Trump’s campaign for the presidency.
Other Republicans aren’t nearly so courageous and are already buckling to the pressure to get along with Trump. New Mexico’s own governor, Susana Martinez, is a typical example: She criticized Trump during the campaign and refused to endorse him, but now she appears to be falling in line. I guess I can understand that, given the fact that the state needs federal dollars that Trump now controls, but it still doesn’t feel right that she’s now ready to warm up to the man she previously despised.
Clearly, the courage of one’s convictions isn’t at the top of the agenda for many Republicans right now. But it seldom is in politics, on either side.
Instead, politics is about money and power, and Trump has plenty of both. The only thing he’s lacking now is popular approval.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He may be reached at email@example.com.