With the possible exception of Andrew Johnson, no president in American history has suffered as many self-inflicted wounds as Donald Trump — and he’s only just passed the two-year mark of his presidency.
A drunken white supremacist with no formal schooling, Johnson appeared at his vice-presidential inauguration so inebriated he could not fulfill his duties.
After Lincoln’s assassination, when Johnson assumed the presidency, he addressed supporters with an angry, rambling screed during which he referred to himself over 200 times.
He careened from one manufactured crisis to another, calling his congressional opponents “traitors,” publicly urging that at least one member be hanged.
A Southerner who opposed slavery and supported the Union, Johnson fooled many. He was a dyed in the wool racist who raged against plantation owners, but was committed to depriving African Americans of their newly won rights.
Johnson likened himself to Jesus, labeling his critics “Judas” and plaintively blaming others for his troubles complaining, “I know that I have been traduced and abused. I have been slandered, I have been maligned.”
(Okay, the parallels are freakish, but that’s not my point.)
Johnson operated in a pre-poll world, but his own behavior likely turned him into a detested figure — and therein lies the parallel on which I want to focus.
Trump’s pre-presidential behavior had already raised serious questions about his character and temperament.
Weeks before he was elected, only 34 percent thought Trump was honest and trustworthy, while 64 percent thought the future president was not. Today, the numbers have barely budged, with 36 percent seeing him as honest while 61 percent do not.
Similarly, before the election, just 34 percent believed he had the temperament to serve effectively as president, whereas now a very similar 39 percent hold that view.
Trump revealed his (lack of) character in innumerable ways before the election — from the “Access Hollywood” tape to his racist rants — and it’s hard to be judged more harshly on that dimension than Trump was before he won office. Yet he has certainly not used these past two years to repair his personal image.
Two years ago, however, some Americans had hopes for his success. This president has dashed those hopes.
Just after he assumed office, on average, Americans were evenly divided on his performance, with those approving outnumbering those disapproving by 4 points.
Today, on average, the country disapproves of his performance by nearly a 17-point margin.
Shortly before his inauguration, 61 percent thought he would do at least a “good job” on the economy. That’s dropped to 49 percent according to the ABC/Washington Post poll.
Half thought he’d do well with the budget deficit. That number plummeted to just 33 percent.
Over half the county thinks he has made the United States less respected in the world, 13 percentage points more than said that about President Obama.
The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found the number convinced Trump will not be effective and get things done soared by 13 points since he came into office.
The number who have no confidence at all in his ability to “make the right decisions for the country,” rose 14 points to 48 percent, with only 35 percent now expressing any level of confidence in him.
The horribly ill-advised government shutdown worsened assessments of Trump’s performance.
Most polls show a decline in his approval rating since it began. Moreover, in the AP-NORC poll, 70 percent assign substantial responsibility for the shutdown to Trump.
It’s fair to say almost no one wants another shutdown, while 61 percent of Americans oppose Trump declaring a national emergency to fund his loathsome and wasteful wall.
Yet, those are the two courses of action the president has proposed going forward.
Like Andrew Johnson, Trump may never be successfully impeached and removed from office, but it is also probable that, like Johnson, Trump will not serve a second term and, as with Johnson, it will all be his own fault.
Mellman is President of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. Senators, 12 Governors and dozens of House Members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic Leaders for over 20 years and as President of the American Association of Political Consultants.