The Voters Were Right About Donald Trump

Stuart Rothenberg February 2, 2017 · 10:43 AM EST

Americans who liked Donald Trump’s swagger during the campaign are pleased with his first two weeks in office. Really pleased. 

A veteran Republican campaign strategist told me he just saw a poll of GOP primary voters in a Southern state that found the president’s image as 93 percent favorable/3 percent unfavorable. Yes, you read that right: 93 percent favorable and only 3 percent unfavorable. I have never seen numbers like that, about anything.

Trump has taken on Mexico, Iran, China and now Australia. He continues to tweet, and senior members of his administration continue to lash out at the media. Northing, in short, has changed.

Those Americans who put Donald Trump into the Oval Office knew that he would rattle the world’s cages. They understood he wouldn’t use the language of politicians or diplomats. They understood he was a disruptor. They just didn’t care – or, more correctly, many liked that idea – so they voted for him.

Now we will start to find out if and when voters decide that experience in office and a level head are more important than they once thought. It won’t happen tomorrow or the next day, but at some point, voters may decide they miss those qualities.

The 2016 exit poll asked respondents whether Donald Trump “has the right temperament to serve effectively as president.”  Only about one-third of those responding, 35 percent, said that he did, while 63 percent said he did not.

When asked whether Trump was “qualified to serve as president,” 60 percent said that he was not, while only 38 percent said that he was.

Those are stunning numbers, and one of the reasons why so many dispassionate observers and handicappers, including myself, were surprised at the election outcome.

I would normally assume that someone widely deemed as unqualified and as having the wrong temperament for the job might not actually win the election. But some voters who held both of those positions voted to put Trump in the nation’s highest office. They had so little faith in established politicians and standard political practices that they voted for a revolution.

Many observers commented that whatever Trump’s rhetoric, he would be surrounded by thoughtful people and veterans of government service who would bring a stability to the administration that Trump lacked during his campaign. 

His selections of General James Mattis for Defense secretary, General John Kelly at Homeland Security, Elaine Chao at Transportation and even Rex Tillerson at State and Georgia Rep. Tom Price at HHS suggested that, whether or not you approved of particular policies, there would be plenty of grown-ups in the room when important decisions (and even supposedly unimportant ones, such as a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement) were being made.

So, if Trump didn’t have the “right” temperament or the “right” qualifications to be president, at least he would surround himself with people who could compensate for his shortcomings.

For critics of Trump, that has not yet happened, and it seems less and less likely that his Cabinet will be in charge. Steve Bannon clearly has the most influence with Trump now, and as long as that is the case, Trump is likely to be the disruptor, not the uniter.

The president is likely to try to renegotiate every deal, every arrangement and every relationship. After all, he sees himself as a master negotiator, and nobody else has his skill. If that is the case, why wouldn’t he go down the list of past arrangements and try to get a better deal on each one?

All the disruption will play well with Trump’s base. That is, it will play well until it doesn’t – until his supporters see consequences they never anticipated or results that suggest Trump isn’t delivering a stronger, safer and more prosperous America.

If and when that happens, those Trump supporters may decide that temperament and qualifications are suddenly very relevant.