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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, April 4, 2017
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on March 30, 2017

Soon after Don­ald Trump was elec­ted pres­id­ent it be­came strik­ingly clear that these would be no or­din­ary times, to bor­row the title from Dor­is Kearns Good­win’s book about Frank­lin and Elean­or Roosevelt dur­ing World War II. Any com­par­is­on with the Roosevelts ends there, but the con­clu­sion that there would be no nor­mal days is even more true now than it ap­peared four months ago.

The pe­cu­li­ar cam­paign, the split pop­u­lar-elect­or­al vote out­come, the fail­ure of the pub­lic to rally round the vic­tori­ous pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate (even George W. Bush, whose 2000 vic­tory was con­tested all the way to the Su­preme Court, got a bump com­ing in­to of­fice), the lack of a hon­ey­moon without par­tis­an bick­er­ing, and un­pre­ced­en­tedly bad polling num­bers for the new pres­id­ent un­der­scored the ex­traordin­ary nature of Trump’s rise to the highest of­fice in the land.

To say that Pres­id­ent Trump’s le­gis­lat­ive agenda and re­la­tions with Con­gress are still a work in pro­gress would be a gross un­der­state­ment. All new ad­min­is­tra­tions go through a bumpy shake­down cruise, but none has been as tur­bu­lent as this one. The col­lapse of the Trump health care pack­age was par­tic­u­larly in­aus­pi­cious, and the pos­sible gov­ern­ment shut­down a month from now and iffy pro­spects for le­gis­lat­ive pri­or­it­ies such as tax re­form and in­fra­struc­ture don’t bode well for the rest of 2017.

The Gal­lup Or­gan­iz­a­tion’s daily track­ing poll for Monday through Wed­nes­day night showed Pres­id­ent Trump’s ap­prov­al level at 38 per­cent and his dis­ap­prov­al rat­ing at 57 per­cent, com­pared to 35 per­cent ap­prov­al and 59 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al from Sunday through Tues­day night.

To put these num­bers in­to con­text, here are Gal­lup’s low­est ap­prov­al rat­ings for pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents: 22 per­cent for Harry Tru­man in Feb­ru­ary 1952, dur­ing the Korean War; 24 per­cent for Richard Nix­on in both Ju­ly and Au­gust 1974 dur­ing the depths of Wa­ter­gate; 25 per­cent for George W. Bush in Oc­to­ber 2008 dur­ing the fin­an­cial melt­down; 28 per­cent for Jimmy Carter in June 1979 dur­ing the Ir­a­ni­an host­age trauma; 29 per­cent for George H. W. Bush dur­ing a re­ces­sion in June 1992. All were be­low where Pres­id­ent Trump has been this month, but all oc­curred dur­ing crises.

Trump’s num­bers are closer to the lows of Lyn­don John­son (35 per­cent in Au­gust 1968), Ron­ald Re­agan (37 per­cent in Janu­ary 1983), Ger­ald Ford (37 per­cent in Janu­ary and March 1975), Bill Clin­ton (37 per­cent in June 1993) and Barack Obama (38 per­cent in April and Oc­to­ber 2011 and Septem­ber 2014). Though in a dif­fer­ent era, Dwight Eis­en­hower’s low was 48 per­cent in March 1958 while John Kennedy’s bot­tom was 56 per­cent in Septem­ber 1963. Note that only Clin­ton hit his nadir in his first year in of­fice, and he got reelec­ted three and a half years later.

No one knows where and how far this busi­ness about Rus­si­an med­dling in the 2016 elec­tions will go, but it is clear that it isn’t go­ing away any­time soon. It should not have been any sur­prise that Vladi­mir Putin, the first former KGB of­ficer to be­come pres­id­ent of the Rus­si­an Re­pub­lic, would try to un­der­mine the cred­ib­il­ity of West­ern demo­crat­ic elec­tions and cre­ate hav­oc for ma­jor ad­versar­ies such as the United States, France, and Ger­many.

That Putin per­son­ally des­pised Hil­lary Clin­ton for her en­cour­age­ment of demo­cracy-seekers in Rus­sia was also well known, so or­ches­trat­ing the re­lease of dam­aging emails and propaga­tion of news stor­ies un­fa­vor­able to Clin­ton, both true and fake, shouldn’t have been much of a sur­prise. We know that Trump ally Ro­ger Stone was in con­tact dur­ing the cam­paign with the elu­sive “Guc­ci­fer 2.0,” the hack­er(s) re­spons­ible for ob­tain­ing and leak­ing Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee emails. U.S. in­tel­li­gence sources say that Guc­ci­fer 2.0 has con­nec­tions with Rus­si­an in­tel­li­gence, though wheth­er Stone knew that is un­clear.

It is not un­usu­al for pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns to have con­tact with for­eign gov­ern­ments. A staffer of the Brit­ish Em­bassy traveled with Bill Clin­ton’s 1992 cam­paign for a time ob­serving the pro­cess from the in­side, later leav­ing the For­eign Of­fice and help­ing man­age Tony Blair’s suc­cess­ful cam­paign for prime min­is­ter. That was en­tirely in­no­cent. The Rus­si­an-Trump con­nec­tion leaves the op­pos­ite im­pres­sion, but the fi­nal ver­dict is still to come. At the very least, it’s been a huge dis­trac­tion for an ad­min­is­tra­tion that is hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time get­ting its act to­geth­er.

In a pre­vi­ous column I likened the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to a hair-rais­ing ride on Dis­ney World’s Space Moun­tain roller coast­er. The ana­logy still seems to fit, with Demo­crats likely feel­ing ex­hil­ar­ated and Re­pub­lic­ans a bit naus­eous.