President-elect Donald Trump has built up a head of steam in filling out his new Cabinet and choosing other top national security and domestic advisers. He boasts that he is making good on his campaign pledges to shake up the Washington establishment and “Make America Great Again.”
But many Americans are highly uneasy with the Republican President-elect’s choices and generally pan his handling of the transition to a new government, according to a new survey of voter attitudes by the Pew Research Center.
Just 40 percent of the 1,502 adults surveyed between Nov. 30 and Dec. 5 said they approve of Trump’s choice of Cabinet members and other high-level officials, while only 41 percent say they approve of the job he has done so far in articulating his policies and plans after he is sworn in as the 45th president Jan. 20.
While there are risks in comparing Trump’s early post-election performance with those of his predecessors – especially in light of his highly unorthodox and combustible style – the public was far more approving of President Obama’s cabinet choices in December 2008 and President George W. Bush’s high-level appointments in January 2001, according to the report. Some 71 percent of Americans hailed Obama’s choices at the time and 50 percent supported Bush’s appointments.
Trump in rapid fashion is assembling a Cabinet that is heartening to his most ardent supporters who look to him as a conservative change agent on the economy, immigration, environmental protection and national defense. But his handiwork apparently is shocking to others who fear his nominations represent a jarring lurch to the right and the beginnings of a systematic dismantling of Obama’s legacy on the economy, health care, the environment and national defense.
Trump frequently was dismissive about the quality of U.S. military leadership throughout the campaign. Yet he has picked four retired military officers for the most sensitive defense-related positions and is considering selecting one or two others for key posts. So far, he has named retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis to be secretary of defense; retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly to oversee the Department of Homeland Security; Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KN), an Army Gulf War veteran, to head the CIA, and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn to be the new White House national security adviser.
Trump also promised to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and crony capitalism, and yet he already has chosen a handful of billionaire insiders to help him govern in Washington.
Those include Stephen K. Bannon, the alt-right Breitbart News executive chairman and former Goldman Sachs investment banker who will serve as Trump’s White House senior counselor; Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and hedge fund operator who was tapped to be Treasury Secretary; and Betsy DeVos, a billionaire Michigan businesswoman and GOP political operative who will head the Department of Education.
Most alarming for some is that Trump has handpicked people for top jobs whose ideological, political and philosophical views and actions are anathemas to the mandates of the agencies they will now head. Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and arch foe of Obama’s clean air and climate change policies, was picked to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and former GOP presidential candidate who voiced strong objections to Obama’s efforts to promote some fair housing practices will be the new secretary of housing and urban development. House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R-GA), an arch foe of Obamacare, will be the new Health and Human Services Secretary. And Trump will name Andy Puzder, a fast-food executive and vociferous critic of federal workplace regulations -- including raising the minimum wage -- to head the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Pew survey results illustrate a nation still bitterly divided over an election in which Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, by nearly 2.6 million. While Trump has vowed to unite the country and calm the fears of many, there is widespread uncertainty about how far he intends to go in making good on his more controversial campaign pledges.
Will he actually arrest and deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall along the southern border, as he promised? Will he make good on his pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act while protecting Social Security and Medicare from cuts? How big a tax cut will he push through Congress and will it benefit the rich far more than middle-income Americans? And what about his plans to bar Muslims from entering the country or building up the military and crushing ISIS once and for all?
Overall, 35 percent of Americans think Trump will be a good or great president, according to the Pew findings. Another 18 percent say he will be just average. And 38 percent say he will be a poor or terrible president.
Trump was one of the most unpopular candidates to ever win the presidency, given the widespread doubts about his explosive temperament and his glaring lack of government experience. However, the latest assessments are far more positive than they were throughout the campaign.
For instance, in October, only 25 percent of the public said they thought he would make a good or great president, while 57 percent said he would be poor or terrible, according to Pew. Not surprisingly, Republicans are voicing more positive views about Trump as he moves closer to his inauguration Jan. 20, while even Democrats seem to have less negative expectations.
The survey also reveals another facet of the public’s anxiety about the president-elect: While Trump surged to power with a totally unorthodox campaign style, including personal attacks on his rivals and a heavy reliance on social media, many Americans have had enough of those tactics. Instead, they want him to begin to behave in a more traditional presidential manner.
About eight in ten Americans, including many Republicans, say that once Trump takes office, he will “need to be more cautious about the kinds of things he says and tweets.”
Trump has continued to rely heavily on Twitter to get his message out, most recently using it to publicly chastise a union official in Indianapolis who challenged the president-elect’s claims to the number of jobs he helped save at a Carrier Corp. manufacturing plant. The United Steel Workers Local 1999 president, Chuck Jones, said he received threats after being criticized by Trump for doing a “terrible job.”
Just 15 percent of the public says there is no need for Trump to change the kinds of things he says and tweets, according to Pew. The rest of Americans say they are eager for a change in style.