Big slide in polling for Trump on key strength of presidency?

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In its first 90 days, the strongest theme sounded by the Trump administration has been that Donald Trump is unlike other politicians — he keeps its promises. When Gallup polled on that point in early February, they found that more than six in ten Americans agreed, in the wake of several executive orders and the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Two months later, the bloom is off the rose, at least a little bit, in Gallup’s latest survey on Trump’s personal qualities:

President Donald Trump’s image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises has faded in the first two months of his presidency, falling from 62% in February to 45%. The public is also less likely to see him as a “strong and decisive leader,” as someone who “can bring about the changes this country needs” or as “honest and trustworthy.”

Over the past two months, Trump’s ratings have declined at least marginally on all six characteristics that Gallup measured in its April 5-9 poll. The percentages saying he cares about the needs of people like themselves and that he can manage the government effectively slipped three to four percentage points, but the changes are not statistically significant.

With close to two-thirds of Americans saying in February that Trump “keeps his promises,” it was clearly a strength for the president. Given the sharp decline on that dimension this month, that is no longer the case. In February, a majority also said Trump can bring about the changes the country needs, but less than half hold that view now. Being a strong and decisive leader is the only characteristic that a majority still say applies to Trump.

The timing of this poll should be one point to consider. The polling finished well over a week ago, and started nearly two weeks ago. Since it ended, there have been a few events in the Trump presidency that could tip that question in either direction. Did the bombing of the Syrian military make Trump seem less like a promise keeper? Did dropping the MOAB on ISIS in Afghanistan make him seem more like a promise-keeper? How about Trump’s return to ObamaCare repeal as his top legislative priority?

What about dumping Trump’s campaign tax-reform plan? That one has populists on edge at the moment about Trump’s promise-keeping qualities, according to Reuters:

In a White House marked by infighting, top economic aide Gary Cohn, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs banker, is muscling aside some of President Donald Trump’s hard-right advisers to push more moderate, business-friendly economic policies. …

More than half a dozen sources on Wall Street and in the White House said Cohn has gained the upper hand over Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former head of the right-wing website Breitbart News and a champion of protectionist trade opposed by moderate Republicans and many big companies.

It’s not just the populists who are worried:

Some conservatives fear Cohn may push through a tax plan that is unnecessarily complicated and argue that including tax relief for middle- and low-income Americans would not spur economic growth as much as cuts focused entirely or mostly on businesses and entrepreneurs.

Adam Brandon, president of the conservative group FreedomWorks, is disappointed Trump is not charging ahead with a plan unveiled last year during his campaign that would slash taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals.

That plan was shaped heavily by Stephen Moore, an economic policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, who advised Trump’s campaign. But it has since been shelved.

And as I noted in my previous column for The Fiscal Times, at least one new idea getting broached would have the effect of breaking a very big Trump promise, even if it’s one that might need to get broken anyway:

The Associated Press reported on Monday that the White House had scrapped its campaign proposals for tax reform and was “going back to the drawing board” to put together a new package of ideas. Among the new ideas was “a drastic cut to the payroll tax,” the traditional funding mechanism for Social Security. Rather than go forward with the original border-adjustment tax, which threatened to touch off a large dispute with the World Trade Organization (WTO), it would change into a VAT instead, while eliminating the labor-expense deduction.

The additional revenues would allow for the elimination of the payroll tax, boost worker take-home pay, and theoretically stimulate economic growth. “This approach would give a worker earning $60,000 a year an additional $3,720 in take-home pay,” the Associated Press notes, but it would also “involve changing the funding mechanism for Social Security.” It also funds Medicare, in part, so its elimination would require the restructuring of both programs, despite the promises from Trump on keeping both intact, at least in the short run.

On the other hand, we’re still at Day 90 in a 1,460-day presidential term. While political analysts in the media like to make a big deal about the first 100 days of a presidency, the ability to follow through on campaign promises largely relies on a Congress that’s willing and able to carry out a president’s agenda. It’s easy to rack up early points on reversing policies at agencies and to shift enforcement priorities at Homeland Security, but tax reform requires time and effort. The best time to judge that kind of promise-keeping will be at the end of the year, not at the first Congressional recess.

Pay attention to the overall scope of the polling, too. The promise-keeping aspect may be important to Trump on the campaign trail, but perhaps not so much in governance, at least for the moment. While the initial polling on promise-keeping was skewed by Trump’s ability to deliver on several promises through unilateral action, his approval ratings weren’t — and haven’t changed much at all. Trump got 62% as a promise-keeper in February without impacting his overall approval ratings much; he’s dropped 17 points in the two months since without much impact on approval ratings, either. (Trump went from 46% approval to 45% approval in these two Gallup polls — basically no change at all.) Most (but not all) of the drop comes from Democrats and independents who aren’t inclined to like Trump under any circumstances.

The era of strategic patience may be over with the Korean peninsula, but perhaps it might be wise to retain it for political analysis.

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