Most American presidents would have envied Donald J. Trump's opportunity to deliver the State of the Union address last Tuesday. After all, he had a good story to tell: solid economic growth, a falling unemployment rate, rising home prices, increasing consumer confidence and above all, a booming stock market — last week's blips notwithstanding.
While his critics would say Mr. Trump inherited an economy that was already on the mend under President Barack H. Obama, let's not quibble. All presidents take credit for the good things that happen during their presidency — and for the most part, Americans allow them to do so.
The odd part of Mr. Trump's presidency, however, is that despite an economy that seems to be humming along nicely, Americans aren't giving him much credit. His approval rating going into last week's State of the Union speech was barely 40%. Any other president would have been basking in an approval rating in the 60% range.
A day prior to the president's speech, InvestmentNews conducted an online poll of 745 readers that indicated 50% of financial advisers approved of Mr. Trump's job performance. Given that advisers trend older and more conservative than the rest of the U.S. population, one could argue that even that rating is below where it should be. In fact, his approval rating in a similar poll taken just three months after he was sworn in was 70%. Clearly, Mr. Trump has not lived up to his promise, even among financial advisers and even after pushing through a tax bill that most of them overwhelmingly support.
Looking at the recent poll more closely, we see that Mr. Trump earned his highest approval ratings on the economy (63%), terrorism (58%), and immigration (51%). He did not score nearly as well when it came to foreign affairs (47%), the environment (37%), health care (36%) or education (35%). These are major policy areas, and the poll shows that Mr. Trump has a lot of work ahead if he is to win over more of the electorate.
Much has been said of Mr. Trump's pugnacious leadership style, his constant tweeting and his eagerness to pick political fights, not only at home but around the world. While some of his supporters endorse this take-no-prisoners attitude, others — and most Americans in general — wish he would tone down the rhetoric.
Those who speak for him in the administration say Americans will ultimately judge him by the results he gets and not his style. However, if that were true, wouldn't Mr. Trump have a higher approval rating at this point in his presidency?
The fact of the matter is, leadership style does count. People in all walks of life, including the president, are judged by how they comport themselves. It can help them win friends and move their agenda forward, or make enemies and prevent them from attaining their political and policy goals.
In his State of the Union address, Mr. Trump called on Congress to commit $1.5 trillion to infrastructure spending. In the past, repairing America's aged bridges and roads has been an issue Republicans and Democrats in Congress felt they could come together on. But even that proposal got a lukewarm reaction last week.
Congress is as polarized as ever — perhaps even more so since Mr. Trump took office — and pleas for unity like the one he made in last week's speech are not going to matter unless he shows he is willing and able to change the way he governs and communicates.
Mr. Trump has three years to right his presidential ship and move the country forward. We are waiting to see if he is up to the challenge.