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Trump's First 100 Days: Weak Polls but Happy Supporters


President Donald Trump got decidedly mixed reviews on his first 100 days in office. But he wasted little time in urging his supporters to expect some accomplishments in the months ahead.

To mark his first 100 days in office, Trump held a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, among the supporters who have stuck with him in good times and bad. Trump told the boisterous crowd it was time to “reflect on an incredible journey together and to get ready for the great, great battles to come, and that we will win in every case, OK? We will win.”

The first 100 days has been a traditional point of assessment for a new president since Franklin Roosevelt moved swiftly to counter the Great Depression in the early weeks of his presidency back in 1933. While some previous presidents had a more productive start than Trump, early victories or failures are not always an indicator of president’s eventual success.

In his first 100 days in office, Trump signed a flurry of executive orders that pleased his core supporters but has struggled to get some important agenda items through Congress, most notably health care reform. Trump cites a major victory in Senate confirmation for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who now holds the seat held for decades by conservative judicial icon Antonin Scalia.

Partisan view from Congress

Despite the congressional setbacks, Republicans remain generally supportive of the president, including Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. “I like the strike in Syria. I like the bunker-buster bomb in Afghanistan. I like the more assertive foreign policy. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not a big fan of the president’s tweeting habits,” McConnell recently told reporters at the Capitol.

President Donald Trump waves as he leaves a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., April 29, 2017.
President Donald Trump waves as he leaves a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., April 29, 2017.

For Democrats, Trump has been a source of protest and resistance, and that will likely continue. “The president’s ‘My way or the highway’ approach is one of the main reasons he has little to show on health care and show little for his first 100 days in office,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

The standard for the most active first 100 days was set by Franklin Roosevelt, who came to power at the height of the Great Depression in 1933 and famously proclaimed in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and Democrats John Kennedy and Bill Clinton all overcame early presidential stumbles to build a record of achievement.

Hounded by weak polls

Trump may need some victories soon to turn around his low approval ratings, which have fluctuated between the mid-40’s and mid-30’s, historic lows for a new president.

“Success breeds success and failure breeds failure,” said Brookings Institution scholar William Galston. “Because once you have demonstrated weakness, your enemies may be more eager to stand up to you and your friends may be less secure about allying themselves with you.”

Trump has focused primarily on pleasing his political base so far, said Brookings analyst Sarah Binder. “In a period of polarization, I think it is very hard for presidents to move to the center in a real, real way. In part, because there really is not anybody in the center and it becomes a little lonely there. I think they get much greater company and a boost from turning to their base.”

Time is of the essence

Historically, presidents have the most political leverage early in their term, and their ability to move public support and get Congress to act can fade over time, said historian Richard Norton Smith.

U.S. President Donald Trump leads a rally marking his first 100 days in office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April 29, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump leads a rally marking his first 100 days in office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April 29, 2017.

“The greatest single danger that the modern presidency confronts is the risk of overexposure. Not because of anything particularly the president does or doesn’t do. But it’s simply the incredible saturation coverage that any White House generates these days.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post summing up his first 100 days in office, Trump wrote that so far he has “kept his promise” to transfer power from Washington, D.C., and give it “back to the people.”

Trump supporters largely seem to agree. One recent University of Virginia poll found Trump’s approval rating among those who voted for him at 93 percent.

But the first 100 days have also shown that Trump will need to broaden his public support to get his agenda through Congress.

Successful presidents like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan were able to broaden their public appeal over time, and that now looms as perhaps the greatest challenge facing Donald Trump.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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