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Trump’s ‘inverse Midas touch’

Donald Trump with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in 2010. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

It's almost as if the best way to make something popular is for President Trump to take the opposite position.

It has now been more than a week since Trump announced that he would ban transgender people from the military. And while we have yet to see any proposal — the Pentagon is saying it will continue to integrate transgender people in the meantime — a new poll shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose it. The Quinnipiac poll shows 68 percent saying transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military, compared with 27 percent who say they shouldn't.

There is no past polling on this issue, so there's not much of a before-and-after comparison. But it's worth noting that this is something at least some folks in the White House thought would be a difficult issue for Democrats to contend with; it turns out it's something on which Americans overwhelmingly side against Trump.

And in that distinction, it's got good company. If you look at the contentious things to which Trump has attached his political brand during his presidency, the other side is almost always significantly more popular. Josh Barro aptly called it Trump's “inverse Midas touch,” and it's something I've spotlighted before when it comes to Trump's immigration positions. It often goes for both issues and Trump's personal squabbles, and it's continued well into Trump's presidency.

A few examples:

  • Robert S. Mueller III: As Trump has attacked the impartiality of Russia investigation special counsel, the same Quinnipiac poll shows 64 percent disagree and say Mueller will conduct a fair investigation; 25 percent agree with Trump.
  • Jeff Sessions: Trump has even more publicly attacked his own attorney general, but the Quinnipiac polls shows 67 percent disapprove of the way Trump is talking about Sessions vs. 13 percent who approve.
  • GOP health-care bill: The new Quinnipiac poll shows 80 percent disapprove of the GOP's health-care efforts, which Trump has supported, vs. 15 percent who support them. And 61 to 77 percent oppose three key elements: cutting Medicaid; cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood; and changing the requirement that people with preexisting conditions pay the same as everyone else.
  • Border wall: Polls regularly show about 6 in 10 oppose it.
  • Paris climate agreement: A June Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 59 percent opposed Trump's pulling out of the Paris agreement vs. 28 percent who supported it.
  • Refugee ban: While Trump's entry ban has polled so-so, 60 percent opposed his temporary suspension of all refugees, and 70 percent opposed suspending all Syrian refugees indefinitely, according to a February Quinnipiac poll.
  • Marijuana: With Sessions prepared to go after legalized marijuana, the newest Quinnipiac poll shows 75 percent oppose the federal government enforcing its laws against states that have legalized it.
  • Tax plan: A Quinnipiac poll in May shows voters disapproved of it 52 percent to 30 percent.
  • Budget cuts: Between 63 and 87 percent opposed eight specific cuts in Trump's budget in March.

There are some exceptions to the rule. People offered qualified support of Trump's limited airstrikes in Syria in most polls. They also tend to like the idea of huge infrastructure spending, which Trump has talked about but hasn't proposed any specifics on. They also like Trump's proposals to beef up the military.

But when it comes to basically anything else, a pattern is forming: Whether it's because people don't like Trump, he takes extreme positions, or he simply doesn't do a good job of selling his policies and ideas — or most likely some combination of all three — basically everything Trump is doing these days is broadly unpopular. And much of it is even splitting the GOP base.

We'll never know how the transgender military ban might have polled had Trump not taken the position he did — a position that was considered extreme even among Republicans in Washington, who were taken aback at how broad it was. But, as Barro noted, it stands to reason that he might have even made the idea of transgender service members more popular.