It took a ‘special’ election — very special, in the sense that one of the candidates was accused of disgusting and possibly criminal actions — to reveal just how special a president Donald Trump is.
He’s not just the first to have had no prior experience in government or in the armed forces, the first to think and behave like a lout and a bully; but also the first to have a unique view of politics in that once in power, he seems to be trying to reduce his base of support.
Having won the nomination without a majority of the vote in the primaries, having lost the popular vote by almost three million, having the lowest popularity ratings of any newly elected president in American history, he seems to have decided the way to more and more winning is to anger and alienate more and more people, just to win louder cheers from his base.
Most presidents start from that base and work their way outward, from the core into wider circles. They try to reassure foes and defuse opposition in pursuit of deep and wide-ranging appeal. After one of the nastiest campaigns in American history, Thomas Jefferson gave a muted inaugural address that said "We are all Federalists; We are all Republicans." He was leading a one-party state by the time he left office. Having won the presidency by 100,000 votes, John Kennedy gave a soaring inaugural that made no mention whatsoever of party or politics, and had approval ratings in the 60s and 70s for the rest of his foreshortened term.
But after his own acrimonious struggle, Trump offered a dark and somewhat dystopian vision (described as "weird shit" by one former president), followed the next day by a large, profane, and vigorous rally against him, filled with opponents who howled for blood. It would have been child’s play to deflate this wave by being courtly and kind, which would have made them all look foolish. But that was too easy. Trump's behavior would make theirs almost seem to be justified. And so it went on.
How do you take approval ratings that are low to begin with and depress them still further? Endorse a man who was once banned from the mall in the city of Gadsden, Ala., for using it to hunt for young girls — 14 or thereabouts — whom he would later attempt to abuse. This produces a race — in red-state Alabama — in which a Democrat gets to the Senate because independents and Democrats rush to the polls while disgusted conservatives write in the name of their favorite character, cross over, or simply stay home. In exit polls, 47 percent of the voters had a favorable view of the Democrats, while 43 percent thought highly of the Republican Party. In Alabama. Trump’s efforts at defining and growing his party seem to be headed downhill.
"I don’t think Donald Trump has a clue how most people think of him," Larry Sabato said Dec. 13. "It is now a large majority who look askance at him and are very critical. Every single day he stirs the pot three or four times, and makes another million enemies." Some of these are in Alabama, the reddest of red, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton last year 63 percent-36 percent.
His approval ratings in exit polls taken in last week’s election were 48/48. And now 41 percent of the voters strongly disapprove of his actions; 32 percent strongly approve. That 32 is the same size as his base nationwide. How much lower can it go?
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."