What Won’t Happen

At his Washington Post op-ed historian Michael Kazin points out something which will disappoint Donald Trump’s supporters and with which I agree. Based on past experience with presidents who won by a minority of the popular vote, Trump is very unlikely ever to become popular or even become more popular:

The four previous presidents who finished second in votes cast all struggled to convince Americans that they were doing a good job. Each battled the perception that his victory was undemocratic and illegitimate; each soon lost the confidence of his own partisans in Congress and led an administration that historians regard as a failure. Each faced an uphill struggle to keep his base happy and mobilized while also reaching out to the majority, which preferred policies his voters detested. Most, like Trump so far, did not even try to square that circle.

The previous four presidents who faced that situation were George W. Bush, John Quincy Adams (also the son of a president), Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison. There are simple reasons that popular minority presidents never become popular: they come with an array of enemies and very few friends. So, for example, as my blogfriend Marc Schulman documented in his now-defunct blog American Future, by December 2001 the New York Times had begun a relentless campaign against George W. Bush that didn’t end until he left office.

Trump has further aggravated that situation by declaring war on practically everyone in Washington: the Washington establishment, the civil bureaucracy, the news media, the list goes on.

Unless there is some precipitating event that produces a “rally ’round” effect, as the attacks on September 11, 2001 did for George W. Bush, Donald Trump is, as a consequence of his initial lack of popularity, relentless anti-Trump media campaigns, constant revelations, and his own personality and conduct, unlikely ever to become popular even fleetingly. However, unless there is an opposite precipitating event as I’ve noted before, he’s unlikely to lose enough of his supporters to risk impeachment. So that’s something that won’t happen, either. Expect to have Donald Trump to kick around for four or, heavens forfend, eight years.

7 comments… add one
  • Bob Sykes Link

    God willing, eight years, followed by another populist Republican.

  • gray shambler Link

    Have you seen the cover of “People” magazine? I wonder if He’ll sue for defamation, dragging his children into it.

  • Andy Link

    You could add Lincoln to this list. He got a plurality of the popular vote out of 4 candidates – just under 40% of the popular vote which is the lowest percentage of any winning candidate in US history. He was very unpopular though much of his Presidency, only to be rehabilitated by history.

  • It’s worth noting, of course, that out of this list of minority Presidents, only one was re-elected to a second term, George W. Bush. Adams lost to Jackson in 1828, Hayes did not seek re-election in 1880, and Harrison lost in a rematch with Grover Cleveland in 1892. As you note, Bush’s re-election was due in no small part to the boost his approval ratings he received after the September 11th attacks, although even then he barely won against John Kerry, with Bush’s win in Ohio by “““ roughly 118,000 votes providing the Electoral College majority he needed.

    It’s far too early to start making any bets at all about Trump, but that doesn’t bode well for him in 2020 if his job approval stays roughly where it is right now.

  • I strongly suspect that if a) Trump seeks re-election in 2020 and b) the Democrats nominate another white technocrat with ties to the financial sector Trump will be re-elected regardless of his approval rating. You don’t need to approve of someone to vote for him or her.

  • It’s far too early to be making projections about 2020, of course, but I tend to agree that it’s entirely possible that Trump could be re-elected, especially if the lesson the Democrats learn from 2016 is that they need to push the party further left with a candidate such as Bernie Sanders (who I tend to doubt will actually run again, but who will most likely be a huge voice in the primary nonetheless) or Elizabeth Warren.

    Additionally, a huge factor in deciding what happens in 2020 will be things such as the state of the economy that we simply cannot know at this point.

    This is where I see many Trump opponents falling into the same trap as Obama opponents did during his first term in office. Their opposition to the Administration is so strong that they can’t see beyond it. Because of this, they seem to be spending their time concentrating on possibilities that are not going to happen, such as impeachment or the invocation of the 25th Amendment.

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