Donald J. Trump is about to be sworn in as America’s 45th president, after an astonishing victory in an extraordinary election. Mr. Trump’s insurgency first prevailed against a broad field of Republican heavyweights. Then the tycoon faced the formidable Clinton machine, with its money, endorsements and backing from both the media and President Obama, who put his prestige on the line for her.
Yet despite expectations to the contrary—including his own on election night—Mr. Trump triumphed. Voters vociferously opposed the status quo, and he was the candidate who promised change. Now, as he comes under considerable pressure to produce, he faces more challenges than most White House residents.
Mr. Trump is one of only five presidents elected while losing the popular vote. He also enters office with historically low approval ratings, 40% favorable and 58% unfavorable in the Jan. 8 Gallup poll. Although the president-elect dismissed such polls in a tweet as “rigged,” Gallup’s numbers are mirrored by other surveys. Mr. Trump will enter the Oval Office with less political capital than any recent president.
Still, he retains important advantages. Attitudes on the economy have brightened since Mr. Trump’s election. Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index rose from minus-10 just before the vote to plus-10 this week. That measure is subject to wide swings, but it nonetheless suggests the American public is feeling upbeat after what Gallup called “nine years of nearly uninterrupted negative economic assessments.”
Polling out Wednesday from ABC and the Washington Post also shows that people are generally optimistic Mr. Trump can deliver progress. Americans were asked issue by issue, “what kind of job do you expect Trump to do?” On the economy, 61% of respondents were positive; on creating jobs it was 59%; on helping the middle class it was 50%; and on handling the budget deficit 50%.
To build on this enthusiasm, Mr. Trump needs to notch early policy successes. This coming week he will create a few by rescinding, watering down or delaying some of his predecessor’s unpopular executive actions. Republicans in Congress can help by continuing to move their legislative packages to replace ObamaCare, reform the tax code, and reduce the regulatory burden on the economy.
Mr. Trump could learn a few lessons from earlier presidents. Don’t get sidetracked by hot-button issues, especially those unconnected to the economy, jobs and wages. Lower expectations for immediate change: Passing legislation is difficult even when the president’s party holds large majorities, which the GOP lacks in the Senate. Act in ways that signal competence rather than chaos. And remember: Success begets political credit, which makes further successes more likely.
Mr. Trump faces an additional challenge: Some of his political opponents claim that his presidency is illegitimate. He is not the only recent president against whom this charge was made. In 2001 Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.) did not attend George W. Bush’s inauguration. The month before, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, appearing on “Meet the Press,” twice refused to say whether Mr. Bush was legitimately elected. But this didn’t become an issue because Mr. Bush wisely chose not to make a fuss.
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