One year of Trump: Core support remains strong despite record-low approval ratings

Despite record-low approval ratings and controversy, US President still has the support of his voters

One year into his presidency, Mr Donald Trump is less popular than when he started. Yet, while his approval ratings are mired at historic lows nationwide, his core support remains rock solid.

Last Monday, the daily Gallup poll showed just 33 per cent of respondents approve of the job he is doing; 63 per cent disapprove.

But a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released in early September, eight months into his presidency, showed that 98 per cent of Trump voters still approved of him.

"They like what he is doing, they like the chaos he's caused," New York-based Republican strategist and commentator Evan Siegfried told The Straits Times.

Despite controversy and a hostile liberal media - or because of it - Mr Trump continues to pull large and noisy crowds at his public rallies, where his nationalist "America First" rhetoric and his tirades against the Washington establishment go down well.

"He satisfies his base by open expressions of contempt for the political establishment in both parties… and for what he, and his base, label political correctness," Dr Glenn Altschuler, professor of American studies at Cornell University told The Straits Times.

"It is his tone which they share - angry, populist, nationalist; a tone of grievance."

Whether Mr Trump's actual record at home is littered with failure or studded with success depends on where one stands in America's toxic divide.

Allegations of possible collusion with Russia by key figures in his campaign team continue to be the focus of a probe by a special counsel - which many in the opposition are hoping will produce evidence that may open the door to an impeachment attempt. This week, the first indictments from the probe were filed and new ones are rumoured to be on the way, perhaps within days. Mr Trump has called the allegations a witch hunt, but cannot quite shake off the cloud over his administration.

His pugnacious style has also stoked controversy, and has Republicans themselves worried.

Mr Trump picked a fight with National Football League celebrity players who knelt rather than stood for the pre-game national anthem to protest continued racial injustice. He drew anger from liberals for seemingly equivocating over violence in Charlottesville in August involving white supremacists - a group clearly emboldened by his rise and rhetoric, analysts say.

On the legislative front, Mr Trump has yet to score any victory. He failed to achieve a signature campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. It did not pass the Senate for lack of support, even from within his own Republican party.

Mr Trump is currently coercing and cajoling Congress to approve tax reforms aimed largely at lowering corporate taxes to make America more competitive. Democrats insist they cannot support tax cuts that benefit the rich. Mr Trump calls them obstructionist. Nevertheless, Republicans hope they will manage to pass the reforms by the end of this month.

He often emphasises - usually through tweeting, his preferred mode of communication - that he is keeping to his campaign promises.

On Oct 21, he tweeted: "Stock Market hits another all time high… 5.3 trillion dollars up since Election. Fake News doesn't spent (sic) much time on this!"

"Perhaps no Administration has done more in its first 9 months than this Administration," he continued.

Mr Trump has, over the past year, ruled mostly by executive action, signing several such measures - often with great publicity - to roll back the legacy of his predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, to the dismay of his critics.

Dr Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, told The Straits Times: "Trump started at a much lower level than any other president, but he was still more popular than unpopular when he was inaugurated.

"Since then, he has experienced what every president does - popularity declines once you take office and you begin making decisions."

Mr Trump has also encountered something he was not used to as a celebrity chief executive - institutional resistance from Congress and the courts. His instinct is often to counter-attack.

"Donald Trump has changed very little since being elected," University of Texas professor of history H. W. Brands wrote to The Straits Times in an e-mail. "The person we saw as a candidate is the person we see in the White House."

The world encounters a different America

A South Korean policeman yawns as he stands before Gyeongbokgung palace prior to a visit by US President Donald Trump in the central Gwanghwamun area of Seoul. PHOTO: AFP

When President Donald Trump wakes up in Beijing on Thursday morning in the course of his swing through Asia, it will be exactly a year since he stunned America's liberal establishment by winning the presidency.

Since taking office, he has kept to promises on signature foreign policy issues but has appeared unscripted on others, leaving many outside the United States scrambling to contain the fallout from his decisions.

Proclaiming an "America First" mantra, he withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade pact, and the Paris Agreement on curbing global warming. He has taken a hard line on Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, but has embraced other strongmen rulers.

In Asia, Mr Trump has cultivated India, viewing it as a cornerstone of an open Indo-Pacific - a term emphasised ahead of his current Asia swing - even as the crisis over North Korea's nuclear missile programme has escalated.

Many analysts - who blame Mr Trump for exacerbating the crisis with threats and public insults aimed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - worry that the US leader is spoiling for a war abroad to show off America's military might.

Fears of miscalculation and over-reaction have grown.

But Ms Bonnie Glaser, China and Asia security specialist at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, thinks Mr Trump deserves credit on North Korea even though it may be too late for him to resolve the problem.

"He has made North Korea the No. 1 issue, and the litmus test of US-China relations. He has compelled every country in the world to think about isolating North Korea. This should have happened five years ago," she said.

Mr Trump has made China do what no previous US president could - put economic pressure on Pyongyang.

"The reality is, it is likely too late," Ms Glaser said.

Many other analysts, however, are less kind, believing that he has damaged US interests and left the world a less peaceful place.

In an e-mail, Dr H.W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas, said: "This time last year the United States was still the indispensable country: the keystone of the Western alliance system, the advocate of democracy and individual liberties, the promoter of international solutions to global problems.

"Donald Trump, by his words and actions, has shaken the confidence of foreign leaders in the United States. Germany now plays the leading role in Europe, China in Asia. American interests have been damaged; so have the prospects for peaceful resolution of world problems."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'One year of Trump'. Subscribe