Saturday, April 29, is the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency. It is difficult to believe that it has been just one hundred days. There have been enough news, events and controversies since the inauguration to fill an entire presidential term. Protests against his election, constant clashes with the media, the haphazard implementation of the travel ban, the crackdown on illegal immigration, Trump’s unrestrained use of Twitter, his unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, and a FBI investigation into possible Russian ties to his campaign are only a few of the events that have occurred in the last three months. This string of events in such a short period suggests that it is going to be a long four years. It also suggests that Trump’s policies and behavior could diminish his chances at reelection.
The Pew Research Center (PRC) and Gallup place the president’s approval rating as the lowest (PRC 39%; Gallup 40%) of any president’s first three months in office since Ronald Reagan. According to the PRC, approval for Trump is sharply divided along party lines. Republicans (82%) overwhelmingly approve of his performance so far, while Democrats (87%) largely disapprove. The support Trump enjoys among members of his party, the PRC says, is common for presidents in their first months in office.
The rhetoric, conduct and policies of the Trump administration will continue to appeal to the base of the president’s supporters. He has a 90% approval rating among conservative Republicans compared to 68% among moderate Republicans.
The gap between conservative and moderate Republicans is representative of the considerable number of his supporters who neither agreed with his campaign message nor approved of his behavior. A Gallup poll showed that Trump entered the White House with “a significantly more negative image” than previous presidents. Another PRC survey revealed that a third (33%) of Trump voters supported him because he was not Hillary Clinton. Over half (53%) of his supporters viewed their vote as a vote against Clinton, not a vote for Trump. Also, the number one concern among Trump supporters during the campaign was his temperament, unpredictability, and speaking style. The president managed to receive Republican voters’ support not because his message appealed to a significant number of the republican electorate but because the specter of a Clinton presidency was an unbearable idea.
These voters had hoped that Trump would tone down his rhetoric once he became the Republican nominee. Needless to say, they were disappointed. Neither becoming the GOP’s nominee nor an electoral victory changed his conduct. Right before he took office, three quarters (76%) of Republicans still wanted the president to be “more cautious” with what he said and tweeted. However, it was naïve to think that the office of the president was going to change Trump’s personality or his controversial policies. This should have been clear since the presidential primaries.
The main indicator of the weakness of support for Trump is that he lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. Nobody is challenging his right to be the forty-fifth president of the United States. But, like the unsavory relative no one mentions because his name brings shame to the family, losing the popular vote is a fact that will haunt the president for the rest of his term, probably his life. A more confident person may choose to strike a more conciliatory tone and try to garner support among a broader section of the electorate. Instead, Trump sticks to controversial policies and to the tactic of attacking those who challenge him. We can expect the next four years to be as confrontational, divisive, and bizarre as the first hundred days had been.
This continued behavior could cause the moderate, anti-Clinton section of his supporters to become disaffected with the president. Coupled with his loss of the popular vote, these disaffected voters may pose a problem for Trump in 2020. Republican voters are not likely to vote against their party. However, their dissatisfaction may be an incentive to stay home on Election Day. The president would have to score major policy victories in the next three years to overcome his lack of popularity. These policies would also have to appeal to a broad section of the electorate, not just his conservative base of supporters. But, it is very unlikely that Trump will move away from his contentious policies. He will continue to be a polarizing figure. His rhetoric, actions and policies will further undermine the already weak support he enjoys.
However, the possibility of growing dissatisfaction with the Trump administration may not be enough for Democrats to win back the White House in 2020. It is certainly not enough for them to win either house of Congress, the branch of government Democrats seem to have neglected in their election strategy. They have also dedicated less attention to races for governor and state legislatures. Democrats need a new plan for congressional and local elections, and a new presidential candidate. Someone who is not Clinton. She had the second most unfavorable image—after Trump—of any presidential candidate in Gallop’s polling history. Democrats need a candidate who can garner the support of a broad spectrum of the population, who can win back those Obama voters who cast their ballots for Trump. It is not clear that Bernie Sanders could be this broad-appeal candidate. His stances on certain issues may not attract the more moderate section of the electorate. Also, Sanders will turn 79 in 2020. Unless Democrats find that new, fresh candidate and prepare for the next election, the next four years of division, confrontation, and polarization could turn into eight.