Since his election, Trump has dampened his attacks on Hillary Clinton, and both he and President Obama have conscientiously adhered to a personal nonaggression pact. But through his tumultuous transition, Trump has made little attempt at national reconciliation. At his post-election rallies, he has continued to launch sweeping denunciations of the news media; he’s regularly directed disparaging tweets toward voices critical of him (an Indiana union leader, Bill Clinton, the cast of Broadway’s Hamilton) and belittled the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian hacking; he’s made the inflammatory and unfounded accusation that “millions of people … voted illegally”; and he’s claimed “a historic electoral landslide victory”—even though his electoral college margin ranked in the bottom fourth of elections to date, and even though he lost the popular vote by more votes than any winner ever. In short, in tone and temperament, the distance between Trump the president-elect and Trump the presidential candidate has been vanishingly small.
Simultaneously, Trump has appointed a Cabinet and White House staff that braid the competing factions of the Republican Party, but offer virtually no outreach to voters beyond them. His nominations for most Cabinet agencies—as well as for the Office of Management and Budget and the Environmental Protection Agency—point toward Trump launching a much more ideological crusade to retrench government than he stressed during the campaign. “He is appointing people who are ideologically conservative in a way that will sometimes run counter to what his populist and nationalist [voter] base is all about economically,” veteran Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told me.
All of this helps explain why recent surveys signal Trump is on track to enter the White House facing more initial resistance in public opinion than any president since modern polling began.
In Gallup surveys tracing back to Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in 1953, the lowest approval rating for an incoming president in his first post-inaugural poll was 51 percent, for both Ronald Reagan in 1981 and George H.W. Bush in 1989. The highest initial disapproval rating was 25 percent for George W. Bush in 2001, followed by 20 percent for Bill Clinton in 1993.
Despite some post-election gains, Trump likely will take office with a lower approval, and higher disapproval, rating than any of those predecessors. In recent Gallup and NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys, only about half of Americans gave him positive marks for his transition, far lower than the share for previous presidents. In Gallup’s polling for Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton, voters gave them initial job-approval ratings that were, on average, eight points lower than the ratings for their transition; if anything near that precedent holds, Trump will become the first modern president to start with less-than-majority public approval.