New polling information published in the Wall Street Journal points to a fascinating trend: Americans like much of President Donald Trump’s agenda, they just do not like him. This trend is a reversal from the last presidency in which people liked the president personally, just not his policies. If you could combine the two, where the President is personally popular as well as his agenda, you would have Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush in his first term.
President Trump’s agenda is not what pushes the American people away; it is his grandiose personality. This explains why congressional candidates who have tried to run like Trump, in terms of presentation, have not fared well in their elections. Case in point: Senator Marco Rubio, who openly spatted with the President during the presidential primaries last year, carried 700,000 more votes last November in the Sunshine State than the Commander-In-Chief. They agreed on many policies, ranging from rebuilding the military to repealing Obamacare, but people judged them-at least in part-on personal appeal.
Personal appeal can only carry a candidate or incumbent so far, however, if their policies are also underwater from an approval perspective. President Obama maintained very high personal approval ratings, while his polices were consistently rejected by the American electorate. As a result, his party lost over 60 House seats, 13 Senate seats, the majority of the governors races, and nearly 1,000 state legislative seats during his time in the White House.
The cautionary tale contained in all of these numbers is simple: both policy and presentation matter for a successful political leader. If President Trump wishes to enact his robust agenda for America, he must start by acting a little more like the Vice-President in how he presents his case. Pence consistently makes the case for the conservative cause with humor, winsomeness, and humility. These traits make Pence as likable as the conservative reform agenda, which is the recipe for long-term success.
Like it or not, in the age of social media and a 24 hour news cycle, campaigns never actually end. Making the case for agenda while in office is as important as campaigning for office in the first place. This is something that the first President Bush never understood, which led to his defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton in 1992. Donald Trump certainly understands the concept of the constant campaign, and he is governing in the same manner that he campaigned. The downside for his campaign tactics being continued into the presidency, however, is that he is not running against the unpopular Clinton anymore. He now has to keep his agenda moving forward on his own merit, not just by pointing-out that the alternative is worse.
Trump is the president now; he is not a wild card candidate anymore. While it is good that his policy positions are popular, he must now work to make himself more personally appealing. Now that he is in the White House, his agenda’s success will rise and fall largely based on how the public views him personally. By combining personal popularity with popular reforms, the conservative agenda will be more readily adopted and America will be the better for it.