By most mainstream accounts, President Trump’s first week in office was chaotic, dominated by needless arguments over inauguration crowds, mythical millions of illegal voters and a Twitter fight with the president of Mexico. That’s how it looked to many of us, anyway.
But there’s a counter-narrative out there, too, among Trump supporters and on conservative media outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart. To the Trump faithful, the real news is that the president is doing what they wanted: He’s keeping his campaign promises.
Consider this a list of “alternative facts,” if you want — except in this case, the facts are real.
Trump jawboned U.S. companies to stop exporting jobs and persuaded some to promise new jobs at home. He formally withdrew from President Obama’s 12-country trade deal with Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He reaffirmed his intention to build a wall on the border with Mexico, banned refugee admissions from Syria and ordered “extreme vetting” for would-be refugees from other countries. He instructed federal agencies to minimize any effort to make Obamacare work. He removed obstacles to the Keystone XL and Dakota access pipelines, and ordered that they be built with American steel. And next week, he plans to nominate a new Supreme Court justice whose name, he’s said, will thrill conservatives.
Not bad for five business days.
Only one week in, there’s already evidence that Trump has deepened his support among Republican voters.
Other things went well, too, and got even less attention.
All Trump’s Cabinet picks appear to be headed toward confirmation in the Senate, even though they suffered through rough hearings. That’s unusual; President Obama lost three nominees in his first months.
And at their policy summit in Philadelphia, the Republican leaders of Congress sang Trump’s praises, even though many of them differ with him on important issues from trade agreements to reining in the federal deficit.
For the moment, the president is fully in charge of his own party.
There’s a practical reason for that.
“He is more popular in most Republican districts than any other Republican,” noted John Feehery, a Republican strategist. “Republican leaders have no choice but to listen to their new president because their constituents demand it.”
Indeed, only one week in, there’s evidence that Trump has deepened his support among Republican voters.
A Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday found Trump’s job approval among all Americans at an anemic 36%, a result far worse than any incoming president in modern history.
But inside the survey was a striking contradictory trend: Trump’s rating has actually improved among Republicans since his inauguration.
Two weeks ago, the same poll found that 76% of Republicans approved of the job Trump was doing; now that number is at 81%. Among Democrats, his rating sank from 10% to a barely measurable 4%.
Now that he’s in office, in other words, Trump is alienating yet more Democrats, but solidifying his hold on Republicans.
Over the short run, that may be all Trump and his strategists need. A strong base of Republican support will help the president keep GOP members of Congress in line.
But to succeed over the long run, Trump will have to appeal to a larger share of Americans. Trump won the presidential election mainly because he poached just enough “Trump Democrats,” working class white voters in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, to prevail in the electoral vote.
Henry Olsen, a conservative scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told me that Trump must find a way to add those voters more durably to his coalition.
“He’s not talking to the voters who said, I’m not sure about him, but I don’t like Hillary,” Olsen said. “He’s still narrowcasting to the minority of true believers.”
Of course, it’s far too early to judge how the Trump presidency will look four years from now.
“Ultimately this is about governing,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told the New York Times. “There are two things he’s got to do between now and 2020: He has to keep America safe and create a lot of jobs…. If he does those two things, everything else is noise.”
Gingrich is right: Nothing succeeds like success. The furors over crowd sizes and phantom voters will soon be forgotten — unless, of course, Trump insists on keeping them alive. Trump’s first week suggests that he may well manage, with the help of a pliant Congress, to implement much of his agenda.
But he will be operating with a handicap: a base that’s deep but narrow. If he runs into trouble — from misjudgment or bad luck — he has no cushion of goodwill.
MORE FROM OPINION