Members Only | April 1, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump Can’t Change for the Better

Time will tell if that matters in 2020.

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Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein wrote this morning that Donald Trump should be very concerned. Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up his two-year investigation 10 days ago, but the president’s polling numbers haven’t budged.

Only Ronald Reagan had a worse approval rating. No president had worse disapproval rating. While Reagan was able to bounce back, Trump is no Reagan. Bernstein wrote:

“It’s hard to believe that a president could be reelected when more than half the country thinks he’s doing a bad job. And if nothing so far has shaken Trump’s unpopularity, what’s going to happen in the next 19 months to do so?”

Bernstein is right to say we don’t know precisely or empirically why Trump’s numbers remain in the dumps, but I think there are reasonable ways to guess. Let’s start with the most self-evident of evidence. As of today, according to the Post, the president has made about 9,500 statements that are verifiably false or misleading in 800-plus days in office. Of those days on the job, according to, he has spent 165 days playing golf at the cost of $95 million. Axios reported in February that Trump spends 60 percent of his workday in “executive time,” which is widely believed to mean time spent watching Fox News, tweeting and talking on an unsecured phone.

During the campaign, Trump said he’d work so hard that he’d have no time for golf. That’s only one broken promise. He said he’d invest more than $1 trillion in infrastructure, a boon to the white working class. That never happened. White House aides kept trying to push the matter but kept getting foiled by none other than the president. (“Infrastructure Week” is now a running joke.) He promised good health care, but let the GOP run away with his legislative agenda. (They tried repealing the Affordable Care Act right as it turned popular.) He said he would not deport the children of immigrants brought to the US illegally. Then he rescinded DACA. (The program in currently tied up in federal courts.) He promised everyone would get a tax cut and the economy would roar as a result. But now lots of people owe and the bull run is slowing down. These might not have been so bad if they weren’t paired with about 11 lies a day. Altogether, you have a picture of a man who can’t be trusted.

The main reason most Americans dislike Donald Trump is the man himself. He’s a terrible human, a humorless snowflake, as sociopathic as a toddler and not nearly as cute, and he won’t let you forget it.

As I said last week:

Are there sane and honest person out there willing to trust this administration over what could be the greatest political scandal in American history? Given that Trump has told thousands of documented lies, given that he pals around with dictators and strongman, given that he maligns patriots and undermines allies, given that he didn’t care about Puerto Rico’s dead, Russia’s sabotage, or a journalist literally bone-sawed to bits by order of a Saudi Crown prince, I don’t see grounds for trust.

I could go on, but I think the main reason most people dislike Trump is the man himself. He’s a terrible human, a humorless snowflake, as sociopathic as a toddler and not nearly as cute, and he won’t let you forget it. “This Russia thing” might not have gotten half the attention it did if he had not made Mueller the nucleus of his rage, which in turn put the “Deep State” in the stringy maw of the right-wing media, which in turn influenced the mainstream press, all of which shaped political reality. If he had focused on things Americans want presidents to focus on, instead of tweeting “WITCH HUNT” more than 180 times, maybe Trump’s polling would be better.

I doubt it. As I wrote in the Editorial Board last spring: “Despite a social media plague of ignorance, propaganda, anti-intellectualism and magical thinking—and the demagogues who exploit them—the public has had 17 months to get used to this president, and most of the people most of the time have Trump’s number.”

That won’t change, because he can’t change. While Reagan, Obama and Bill Clinton experienced nadirs, they managed to shift, shuck, and jive in order to rise above 50 percent by the time of their reelections. Trump can’t pivot. Not for the better. What change he can make is always for the worse. He doubles down. He digs in. He gets more execrable, thus defying what many think is possible. What’s more, I suspect, is the belief among Trump strategists that it worked the first time, why not again?

Being unpopular doesn’t mean he’ll lose. Remember that people don’t vote for presidents. States do. Going “full animal,” as Steve Bannon predicted, might alienate a majority distributed across the country, but that won’t matter if enough voters in enough states love him all the same. Still, as Bernstein said, it’s hard to believe a president can be reelected when a majority doesn’t like him. I don’t think the majority will change. I don’t think the president can change. Time will tell if that matters.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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