The Memo: Trump stuck with low approval ratings

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE in recent weeks has avoided major controversies and won plaudits from unexpected quarters for his handling of foreign policy.

Trump has shifted on several policies toward the GOP establishment and appears to have diminished chief strategist Stephen Bannon’s influence — another change in a conventional direction.

Yet Trump’s approval ratings remain low by historic standards for someone in the first 100 days of their presidency, and some of his moves have provoked criticism from the right.

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The situation highlights a central dilemma for Trump. His shock election win came despite the lowest favorability ratings of any major-party presidential nominee in recent history. He badly needs to expand his popularity beyond his hardcore supporters. 

But seeking to do that by moving toward the center risks alienating his base voters, who backed him because of his loud and proud defiance of the Washington establishment. The intensity of those voters was a key part of Trump’s victory.

“It is difficult to square that circle,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), cautioning that the problem would likely persist at least through next year’s midterm elections.

“Either his hardcore supporters will come to the view that he has got to do certain things to build and expand the base, to protect the party’s interests and to set himself up for reelection — or they will be highly offended and take that out on the president,” Steele said. “We saw that in 2006, when core supporters of George Bush deserted him.”

Some issues, such as tax reform, might offer Trump the opportunity to win some form of consensus. 

But the administration was badly bruised by its failure to pass its plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are in no mood to compromise. And it’s not clear how one of Trump’s signature promises — building a wall on the border with Mexico — will work politically: He risks further alienating moderates if it goes ahead, and disenchanting his supporters if it doesn’t.

As if all that were not enough, a shutdown battle is looming, with the danger that Trump will be caught between the demands of fiscal conservatives on one hand and the imperative to keep the government running on the other.

Two new polls this week, from Marist and the Pew Research Center, both pegged his approval rating at a lowly 39 percent. In Gallup’s daily tracking poll, his approval rating has hovered between 38 percent and 42 percent since late March.

Those ratings are lower than for every president of the modern era at a comparable point in his presidency.

One number in a recent Gallup poll is particularly worrisome from the Trump political team’s perspective.

It found his standing had declined on a number of important qualities, most notably whether he keeps his promises. The share of adults who believe he does so has fallen to 45 percent, according to Gallup, a drop of 17 points in just two months.

That could be the consequence of the failure of the push for healthcare reform. But how Trump finds his way out of the predicament is not clear.

“To deliver on some of his promises in the first term, he is going to have to cut deals to bring Democrats along,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, a contributor for The Hill. 

But, he added, this goal was made more difficult by the president’s low approval ratings.

“The current dynamic is not putting any pressure on Democratic elected officials,” Mackowiak said. “In fact, the pressure is really not to partner with the White House on anything right now. Democrats are saying it is less risky to oppose Trump than to support him.”

To be sure, all is not doom and gloom for Trump.

A Harvard-Harris Poll survey released this week finds Trump with an approval rating of 48 percent this week, with 52 disapproving. That's a tick down from the poll's 49-51 split in March.

He claimed moral victory when Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff failed to win an outright majority in a special election for a House seat in Georgia on Tuesday, forcing a runoff.

“Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG ‘R’ win with runoff in Georgia,” Trump tweeted soon after the result became known. “Glad to be of help!”

Trump had recorded a robocall to bolster Republican fortunes in the race. He also used his Twitter account to draw attention, on the day of the election, to the fact that Ossoff does not live in the district.

While it’s still possible that Ossoff could win the June runoff, that will be a difficult race for the Democrat now that Republicans can coalesce behind a single candidate.

Trump has disproven doubters at every step.

He enjoys the traditional advantages of the presidency, including the capacity to make headlines and set the agenda. He will hold a news conference next week, where he is expected to make the case that his first 100 days have been a success.

He has also already displayed his capacity to remake the electoral map because of his appeal to working-class voters in industrial states. His election victory came in large part because of narrow victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states that no Republican presidential nominee has won since at least 1988. He returned to Wisconsin this week, preaching the gospel of economic nationalism that has proven politically effective for him in the past.

But the greater danger, acknowledged even by some Republicans, is that the divisiveness of Trump’s political persona is a millstone. They say that means he needs to rack up some big achievements — and soon — if he is to escape it.

“His personality doesn’t lend itself to broad-based popularity,” said GOP strategist Rick Tyler. “People are either going to like him, or they’re not going to like him. The bigger question is whether they like what he does.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.