The inauguration hasn’t happened yet, and already Trump has started wearing out his welcome
As a developer and a reality TV star, Donald Trump seemed to believe there was no such thing as too much publicity.
Already, as president elect, he’s finding that’s not so.
Trump is still a week away from being sworn in as president, but judging by the latest polls, he’s already started to wear out his welcome.
Good afternoon, I’m David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in the presidential transition and highlight some particularly insightful stories.
THE HONEYMOON IS OVER
In the weeks immediately after the election, Trump got a small, but noticeable, boost in polls.
His efforts to prod Carrier Corp. to keep at least some jobs in Indiana got a lot of favorable attention — even if the numbers were less than he claimed. Independent voters, in particular, seemed to like the unifying tone he set with his speech on election night.
Two months on, that glow has worn off, and Trump’s standing with the public has returned to his normal, which is to say widely abnormal for any other newly elected president.
Only 44% of Americans approve of Trump’s transition so far, according to the latest Gallup figures, released Friday. A poll earlier in the week by Quinnipiac University pegged the number even lower — only 37% approved of Trump in that survey.
In either case, Trump stands far below the norm for a new president. In Gallup’s surveys, for example, 68% of Americans approved of Bill Clinton’s transition just before he took office, 61% approved of George W. Bush and a whopping 83% approved of Barack Obama.
Polls don’t say precisely why Trump’s standing has dropped, but there’s strong reason to think over-exposure plays a part.
Throughout the presidential campaign, whichever candidate was in the spotlight consistently suffered. Constant attention reminded voters of what they disliked about either Trump or Hillary Clinton.
One of the reasons Trump won was that his aides succeeded in keeping him restrained in the final two weeks of the contest, allowing attention to focus on Clinton — a strategy helped by FBI Director James Comey’s late announcement of a renewed interest in Clinton’s emails. [Comey’s conduct is now going to be the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.]
Since the election, however, Trump has dominated the news constantly. He seems to hate not being the center of attention, picking fights on Twitter, offering cryptic pronouncements on policy and largely eclipsing the final weeks of President Obama’s tenure.
Predictably, that approach has started to wear on people — perhaps bore them — even before his inauguration.
The decline in Trump’s standing has been especially notable among the voters with the least attachment to either party: His approval among self-identified independents has fallen from 46% a few weeks ago to 33% now, Gallup found.
Two numbers stand out from the Quinnipiac poll: Since November, Trump has lost ground on the share of voters who think he has good leadership qualities and those who think he has good judgment.
None of that is fatal — presidential standing goes up and down. But for nearly all presidents, support tends to decline over time. Part of the goal of a transition is to hit a high point that will provide a cushion against the inevitable disappointments that come with governing. That’s one goal Trump has clearly failed to achieve.
A DOSSIER, A CONTROVERSY
In last week’s newsletter, I said that Trump’s fight with U.S. intelligence agencies over Russia’s involvement in the election posed a big problem for him. This week, that problem worsened fast.
On Tuesday CNN reported that intelligence officials had briefed Trump about evidence that Russia may have gathered material that could be used to blackmail him. Later that day, Buzzfeed published the full text of a 35-page memo full of unverified allegations against Trump that an opposition research firm had gathered.
At his news conference the next day, Trump lashed out at the media, and there’s certainly lots to criticize in Buzzfeed’s decision to publish derogatory information that it and other news organizations have tried for weeks to corroborate without success.
But Trump cast more blame on the country’s intelligence agencies, saying that they were leaking allegations against him and that it was something “Nazi Germany would have done.” As president, he will need help from those agencies, many of whose operatives routinely risk their lives in government service. It’s a feud that can only hurt him, but he seems unwilling — or maybe unable — to de-escalate it.
At the same time, he also chose to keep alive a separate controversy about possible conflicts of interest between his business and government responsibilities.
As his lawyer said, selling his assets would have been costly. But it was the one sure way to put the issue to rest. Trump chose, instead, to keep his ownership interests, but turn management of his company over to his sons. As a result, ethics questions will persist, handing a weapon to his adversaries.
As Cathy Decker noted, Trump’s news conference showed, once again, that he is determined to do things his way, even if that puts him at war with all sides.
As all that unfolded, Trump’s choices for top Cabinet positions started going through the confirmation process. Most seem likely to gain approval with little trouble, although some of the most controversial picks have not yet come to a hearing.
But strikingly, one after another, Trump’s Cabinet picks abandoned some of his controversial opinions. His pick for CIA chief, for example, testified that he wouldn’t carry out orders to torture. His Defense and State departments choices disagreed with him about Russia.
Trump’s choice to head the Homeland Security department made clear that some basic questions about immigration policy in the new administration remain unresolved. Meantime, as Joe Tanfani reported, groups that want to see more restriction of legal immigration hope to gain from their ties to Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s designee for attorney general.
In at least one case, it was Trump who abruptly abandoned a campaign pledge, picking an Obama appointee to lead Veterans Affairs, a move that likely puts an end to conservative hopes that he would propose a large-scale privatization of veterans healthcare.
Trump also announced that his administration would produce its own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act — news that came as a surprise to many on Capitol Hill. Republicans took the first step this week toward repeal of Obamacare, but as Lisa Mascaro noted, they still have a long way to go.
Meantime, as Noah Bierman wrote, Trump’s press aides have a new catchphrase that is likely to get a lot of use as they try to deal with the steady flow of social media messages from their boss: “The tweet speaks for itself.”
OBAMA AND HIS LEGACY
Don’t miss the first part of Christi Parsons’ series of stories on President Obama. This one looks at how the president who hoped to sow peace, instead led the nation in war. And check back over the next few days as we roll out the rest of the series by the reporter who has covered Obama longer than anyone currently on the White House beat.
As he prepares to leave office, Obama is taking a few last policy steps. This week, for example, he expanded the California Coastal National Monument, as well as several other protected areas.
He also ended a long-standing so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that gave special treatment to Cubans who arrive in the U.S. without visas. The Trump administration could revive the old policy, but since it was already widely criticized, they may choose not to.
AND ONE MORE GREAT READ
Trump is a man with a lot of acquaintances, but few close friends. One of those is Thomas Barrack. Read Michael Finnegan’s profile of a Californian who could shape Trump’s views on the Middle East.
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That wraps up this week. My colleague Sarah Wire will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in the transition and in California politics with our Trail Guide, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.
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