Approval ratings for presidents, Congress and other institutions are some of the most vapid and worthless chew toys I have ever come across in public opinion polling.
Besides being toothless and vacillating, nobody ever does a poll on whether we approve of the approval ratings.
Lately the cable news anchors and panelists are pointing the finger and indicting President Donald Trump on multiple counts of low public approval, as if that is a crime — or big surprise.
The Electoral College elected Trump by a large margin, but the popular vote favored Hillary Clinton by about 3 million votes. That’s a built-in discrepancy that someone with Trump’s abrasive style will never, ever overcome. Trump being elected, sworn in and now governing a divided country is almost a guarantee of low approval ratings.
I know the subject of approval ratings has come up because we’re approaching the “milestone” of Trump’s first 100 Days in office — an equally suspect measure of accomplishment.
If you are surprised Trump said things and promised things during the campaign — things that now not even he believes — you were taken for a ride. If you think he is the kind of guy who will be haunted by things he said in the past, all I have to say is, uh, really?
By analogy, Trump is a duffer in politics who plays on his own course and by his own rules. He seems to give himself an infinite number of mulligans, allowing him to re-write and re-invent himself every time truth combusts one of his yarns or vows.
If anybody thinks he is going to start sweating because his “approval rating” is at an “historical low,” well, you haven’t been paying attention. Trump’s approval ratings of 40 to 42 percent may seem low on some sliding scale, but the same polls say the people who elected Trump would do it again if that race were to be held next Tuesday. So, maybe we just have a case of the people who disapproved of him before, still disapproving of him. And aren’t these the same polls and pollsters who were prepared to inaugurate President Hillary Clinton? From the same condescending pillars of the establishment that still can’t believe the rubes in the flyover states elected President Trump?
What action can be taken against low approval ratings? Congress has some of the lowest of any institution in the universe — yet that rarely affects its behavior, and its incumbents are rarely defeated. Once again we see a low-approval Congress and low-approval White House flirting with a government shutdown.
The last three presidents all were re-elected to second terms. The last time an opinion poll might have had bearing on a sitting president is when LBJ decided half a century ago — in the face of sour polls showing him losing against mounting competition for the 1968 Democratic nomination — that he would neither seek, nor accept, the nomination.
So far, I haven’t heard of anyone getting impeached for having low approval ratings — and all presidents have faced them at times. When they do, they don’t lose their security teams. Nobody takes away their access to the White House or the nuclear codes.
Trump, of course, called some of the recent polling about his poor approval ratings “fake news” — his pat answer to too many things.
What Trump and all presidents really ought to concern themselves with is the judgment of history, of the good they did and the bad they avoided while in office. A presidential term is about 1,500 days. We’re just shy of 100 days into this one.
There was a benchmark presidential approval rating on Nov. 8, 2016, and there won’t be another until Nov. 3, 2020 — unless Trump walks away from the job, or manages to somehow lose the GOP nomination.
We might get a hint in the November 2018 mid-term elections. But maybe, for a little while at least, can’t we give it a rest?