The shortest honeymoon on record is officially over.
Normally, newly elected presidents enjoy a wave of goodwill that allows them to fly high at least through their first 100 days. Donald Trump has not yet been sworn in and the honeymoon has already come and gone.
Presidents-elect usually lie low during the interregnum. Trump never lies low. He seized the actual presidency from Barack Obama within weeks of his election – cutting ostentatious deals with U.S. manufacturers to keep jobs at home, challenging 40-year-old China policy, getting into a very public fight with the intelligence agencies.
By now he has taken over the presidential stage. It is true that we have only one president at a time, and for over a month it’s been Trump.
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The result is quantifiable. A Quinnipiac poll from Nov. 17 to 20 – the quiet, hope-and-change phase – showed a decided bump in Trump’s popularity and in general national optimism. It didn’t last long. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, the numbers have essentially returned to Trump’s (historically dismal) pre-election levels.
For several reasons. First, the refusal of an unbending left to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s victory. It’s not just the demonstrators chanting “not my president.” It is leading Democrats pushing one line after another to delegitimize the election, as in: He lost the popular vote; it’s FBI Director James Comey’s fault; the Russians did it.
Second, Trump’s own instincts and inclinations, a thirst for attention that leads to hyperactivity. His need to dominate every news cycle feeds an almost compulsive tweet habit. It has placed him just about continuously at the center of the national conversation and not always to his benefit.
Trump simply can’t resist playground pushback. His tweets gave Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes screed priceless publicity. His mocking Arnold Schwarzenegger for bad “Apprentice” ratings – compared with “the ratings machine, DJT” – made Trump look small and Arnold (almost) sympathetic.
Nor is this behavior likely to change after the inauguration. It’s part of Trump’s character. Nothing negative goes unanswered because, for Trump, an unanswered slight has the air of concession or surrender.
Finally, it’s his chronic indiscipline, his jumping randomly from one subject to another without rhyme, reason or larger strategy.
In a week packed with confirmation hearings and Russian hacking allegations, what was he doing meeting with Robert Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist pushing the thoroughly discredited idea that vaccines cause autism?
The vaccination issue was merely an exclamation point on the scatter-brained randomness of the Trump transition. All of which contributes to the harried, almost wearying feeling that we are already well into the Trump presidency.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.