Donald Trump, who pulled off an astonishing win over a year ago, is the least popular president ever elected thus far. Other presidents were elected, and became more unpopular later, but Trump was unpopular from the day he announced, unpopular while running, and unpopular the day he was elected as president, even while he was winning over 300 votes in the Electoral College.
At the same time, he had unprecedented levels of resistance from inside his party, some of whose members have never come over. He failed to win a majority of the votes cast in the Republican primary, and lost the popular vote by more than two million to the also-unpopular Hillary Clinton.
Trump won under 46 percent of the vote in a race without strong third-party candidates; and after the election, in spite of good news about the economy and the ending of the Islamic State, his numbers went down even more.
“Trump’s unpopularity is amazing, given the strength of the economy,” the Washington Post said on Dec. 8. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed him losing support among his key bloc of white working-class voters, and losing another 7 points among independents, from 41 to 34 percent. That he was already upside down in the favorability ratings suggests he was elected by people who didn’t much like him. That is not like your storybook demagogue, who sweeps into power on a great wave of feeling. And it’s a hint that his feared and lamented attack on the traditional norms of behavior may not be as complete or as bad as it seemed.
Compared by his foes to former Argentinian President Juan Peron with an army of brown shirts, Trump seems more like a crooner or sports star with a huge, slavish retinue; he lashes out much more at personal slights than at political enemies; and his hunger seems less for political power than praise. In the campaign, his rallies gave off the whiff of the Beer Hall, but the people who went there were too small a number to win an election, and his other supporters seemed rather reluctant, and all too aware of his flaws.
In office, Trump’s actual deeds have been out of the standard Republican playbook, and have not worked out badly. The things that raise fears and drive down his poll numbers come out of his unfiltered mouth, driving both his foes and his allies insane.
In the campaign, people often complained about the rules he was breaking, the norms he had shattered, the restraints he had shattered, and expressed their concern they might never recover. But it seems now that it was exactly this sort of concern that may have held down his vote totals in last year’s election, and is driving his drop in the polls.
In August, the Battleground Poll found that 71 percent of Americans agreed his “behavior is not what I expect from a president," even though some of them certainly helped to elect him, possibly hoping he’d change when in office, or that he was, in any case, better than Clinton. Meanwhile, the tweets and the tantrums, the insults and slurs, the attacks on war heroes and shout-outs to slime have been doing real damage.
Perhaps the norms aren’t as dead as we feared.
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."