During last year’s U.S. presidential campaign, Donald Trump often promised to be a uniter, not a divider. But the president’s performance during the past week and some new public opinion polls suggest the president is falling short in his efforts to bring the country together.
Trump has projected sharply different tones and rhetoric in recent speeches, from a sober Monday address on U.S. policy in Afghanistan to a campaign-style rally the next day in Phoenix, Arizona.
On Wednesday, Trump made a fresh pitch for unity before a veteran’s group in Reno, Nevada. “It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us.”
Rallying the base
But it was the Phoenix rally the day before that got the most media attention. Trump blasted his political opponents including Democrats and even some Republicans, and he also launched a fresh attack on what he called the “sick” and “crooked” media for coverage of his controversial remarks blaming both sides for the recent violence during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
During the rally, Trump defended his various responses to the violence in Charlottesville. “I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis, I got them all in there,” Trump told the crowd. “Let’s see, the K-K-K (Ku Klux Klan). We have K-K-K. I got them all. So they (the media) are having a hard time. So what did they say? ‘It should have been sooner. He’s a racist!’”
The rally also drew anti-Trump protestors into the streets outside the venue in Phoenix. “I’m really gob-smacked (taken aback) the way that man has been acting in office. It’s been nothing but total disorder,” said one.
But Trump supporters inside remained upbeat about the president despite his historically weak poll ratings. “He’s amazing. And he’s right. He’s right about everything,” said one woman enthusiastically waving a Trump sign.
Polls: a divisive presidency
Two new polls suggest Trump’s rhetoric is often more divisive than unifying. A Quinnipiac survey found that only 31 percent of those surveyed believe the president is doing more to unite the country, as opposed to 62 percent who believe he is doing more to divide the nation.
Another Quinnipiac poll suggested Trump alone is not responsible for the worsening political divide. At least 40 percent of voters said the Republican Party is moving too far to the right and the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left, aggravating the country’s ideological divide.
A new survey from George Washington University found that 71 percent of voters said Trump’s behavior is “not what I expect from a president,” while 27 percent disagreed with that statement.
“The Battleground Poll data shows that more Americans object to President Trump’s character than his agenda,” said George Washington University Associate Professor Michael Cornfield.
Many Trump critics question whether the president can bring the country together in the wake of Charlottesville. “Compared to other presidents in other crises who have brought the country together, Trump gets a failing grade,” said American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman.
Trump supporters do not see the president as divisive and generally accept his blustery speaking style. “He is not skilled in the same kinds of ways of dealing with ideas that most politicians are,” said Hans Noel of Georgetown University via Skype. “And for some people that is a feature, right, part of what makes him attractive, is that he does not have to do what people say, does not play the same game that other folks do.”
Trump has also been aggressive in ratcheting up his criticism of Republican congressional leaders in recent days, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The president again blasted McConnell for falling short in the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Trump tweeted Thursday, “that should NEVER have happened!”
The tense relations between the White House and congressional Republicans could portend some difficult times ahead as the president tries to jump start his legislative agenda in September when lawmakers return to Washington. “The initiative will have to be in Congress among the Republicans,” said University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato via Skype. “They control both houses (of Congress) and they are the ones on the ballot next. Trump won’t be on the ballot in 2018. They will be on the ballot in 2018.”