Donald Trump is not the first recent president to win the election while losing the popular vote. And even though Bill Clinton did win the popular vote in 1992, he did so with a very small share of the overall vote thanks to Ross Perot’s strong performance.
But Trump manages to be considerably less popular than any other recent president-elect, in terms of both his conduct during the transition phase and the public’s view of his Cabinet choices.
That’s according to a new poll out from the Pew Center that shows Trump drastically underperforming Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush.
Combine Trump’s low ratings with the fact that the GOP lost seats in both the House and the Senate, and the Republican Party is basically limping into office in terms of public opinion. And yet despite all that, they are situated to enact sweeping change on a much larger scale than anyone else on the list except perhaps Obama. Their party holds majorities in both the House and the Senate, and, thanks to a very friendly map, they have little reason to fear losing control in 2018 even if most Americans disapprove of their conduct.
Republicans have no illusions about securing Democratic cooperation with their legislative agenda, and thus are prepared to aggressively use the budget reconciliation process to avoid filibusters. Meanwhile, on nomination Democrats already sharply curtailed senators’ ability to filibuster — so 52 Senate votes will be all the GOP needs to put the Trump team in place. They’re not a popular political party, but they won the election and they have the means and the wherewithal to govern.
Public opinion counts for a lot in politics, but institutional dynamics and organizational savvy county for more.