As they say in reality TV, President Donald Trump "didn't come here to make friends." But on "The Apprentice," the reality show on which Trump built much of his brand in the last decade, sloppiness and mismanagement were fireable offenses. With Trump assuming the role of America's CEO, it may be chaos rather than callousness that threatens to harm his standing with the American voters who are giving him a chance.
The substance of the Friday night executive order that banned travel and immigration from seven "high-threat" nations such as Yemen and Syria should come as little surprise to anyone who believed that President Donald Trump would come to Washington to do the things he said he'd do. Despite high-profile protests at airports and city centers across the country, data suggest a move to tighten restrictions on travel and immigration from certain countries would receive at least modest support from a plurality American voters, and is not something that would come as a surprise to those people who cast ballots for him in November.
For the forty percent of voters who approved of Trump on the day he took office, many certainly expect Trump will make enemies and cause heartburn in the nation's capital. Being nice and compassionate has never been part of the Trump brand, and the idea that he'd sign an executive order that does a heartless thing is not so shocking, even to those who voted for him. For many of his voters, the "No More Mr. Nice Guy" routine is a feature, not a bug, with Trump as the only one who could stand up in the face of upsetting stories of grandmothers handcuffed in airports and say "too bad, America first."
But those same voters also expect managerial excellence from this White House. President Trump, who made his name in the business world and built a brand as a successful CEO via a reality TV show that punished incompetence, was not just elected for a series of tough policy views. Trump was elected in part because enough Americans viewed him as a capable and strong leader, someone who is "decisive" and "competent." Research on how voters perceived the presidential candidates consistently showed Trump trouncing his opponents on metrics such as who "emphasizes success" and who is "competitive" or "intense." Voters on election day wanted a "strong leader" more than in years past.
Whether or not Trump's voters will balk at the actions of the last few days will depend a lot on how those voters define "strong" leader and if they hold the president responsible for the mess. If Trump's voters see the controversy as mostly a symptom of "organ rejection," with the body of Washington simply refusing to accept its new executive, they may be willing to give him a pass. Vocal critics such as the media and Congress are not trusted by many of Trump's voters to begin with. (Edelman's 2017 Trust Barometer study shows only 39 percent of Trump voters trust Congress to do what is right, and only 27 percent of Clinton voters feel the same. For Trump voters, only 15 percent trust "the media.")
What may make this executive order dust-up different is that those frustrated with Trump's actions are not those who already opposed him, Hill insiders, or Obama holdovers. That could be expected. In this situation, however, these are Trump's own appointees, the people he hand-picked to fill roles in his administration, who are shocked at how the situation was handled. His own Secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense were reportedly caught off guard and aggravated by the situation. Trump promised he would hire the best people, and if it is those very people who are the ones frustrated, it may send an entirely different message to Trump's backers.
"Trump is a mean man" is a message that Democrats used time and time and time again in the 2016 race. Airwaves were filled with reminders that Trump has insulted just about everyone. In the end, painting Trump as cruel in a way that Americans should reject simply did not work, and yet because it resonates emotionally with Trump's opponents, it remains the crux of Democrats' and protestors' argument against Trump even today.
Trump voters may not care much. They think President Trump didn't come here to make friends. But they do expect him to play to win. If he considers himself to be America's CEO, he'll be expected to run things smoothly, efficiently, and effectively. As a result, it is the potential perception of mismanagement, that Trump is not the effective executive he promised, that poses a greater threat to his approval ratings over the long haul.
Kristen Soltis Anderson is a columnist for The Washington Examiner and author of "The Selfie Vote."