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Donald Trump’s unpopularity runs into ‘Limbaugh Standard’

Updated
Shortly after the 2014 midterms, federal policymakers were facing a funding deadline and a possible government shutdown. Some on the far-right believed President Obama was so weakened by the election results that GOP lawmakers should push him to accept conservative demands.

Rush Limbaugh told Fox News’ Chris Wallace at the time, “]T]he Republicans are running around like a fool saying the American people are not going to like them if they shut down the government is absurd. Barack Obama’s approval is in the 30s.”

Limbaugh’s assessment wasn’t actually true at the time, and Congress ultimately didn’t take his advice, but the radio host’s rhetoric was nevertheless memorable. If a president’s approval rating dips below 40%, according to the Limbaugh Standard, that president is by definition weak and vulnerable.

This came to mind yesterday when reviewing the new polling report from the Pew Research Center.
Overall, 39% say they approve of how Trump is handling his job as president, while 56% say they disapprove and 6% do not offer a view. Job ratings for Trump are more negative than for other recent presidents at similar points in their first terms.
To be sure, there are plenty of other polls offering a range of data, but the Pew results are roughly in line with the latest Gallup daily tracking poll, which yesterday put the president’s approval rating at 40%. [Update: The newest Gallup data, published after this piece originally went live, shows Trump sinking to 38%.]

In case this isn’t obvious, since the dawn of modern polling, no new president has been this unpopular, this early in his presidency.

Why does this matter? A couple of reasons. First, Donald Trump, elected in such a way that raise questions about his presidency’s legitimacy, is governing as if he earned a mandate by winning in a landslide. Public-opinion data, however, is a reminder that Americans are, at least at this point, wildly unimpressed with their new Republican leader.

In conservative media, there tends to be a knee-jerk reaction to Trump criticism: “Sure, the media and elites are balking, but the American mainstream elected him when he acted this way in 2016,” Such a response to recent events rings hollow when the president’s approval rating falls to 39%.

Second, there is such a thing as political capital, and the more Trump’s support wanes, the less capital he has. If you’re a Republican from a competitive district or state, and you’re watching your party’s president alienate the American mainstream, it’s inevitable that you’ll feel nervous about blindly following the GOP’s partisan agenda.

At his ridiculous press conference yesterday, Trump noted recent protests from health care proponents, targeting congressional Republicans. The president said, “Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It’s a disaster. You can say, ‘Oh, Obamacare.’ I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they’re not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.”

In our system of government, however, “the Republican people that our representatives are representing” aren’t the only people in the United States. The latest polling should be a reminder that everyone else matters too.

Donald Trump and Polling

Donald Trump's unpopularity runs into 'Limbaugh Standard'

Updated