President Trump seemed to hint early Thursday that the federal government could pull out of helping Puerto Rico before the recovery is finished. And just hours later, a new poll showed what a bad idea that was.
Quinnipiac University is providing some of the first full-scale reviews of Trump's handling of Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, and it's bad news for Trump: Just 36 percent say the federal government has done enough, while 55 percent say it hasn't. Negative views have increased since an AP-NORC poll a week ago showing 49 percent disapproved.
That may seem as if it's just mirroring how people feel more generally about Trump. But if you look closer, the negative views of his Puerto Rico response lie in stark contrast to reviews of him on other hurricanes and the tragedy in Las Vegas. Trump gets positive marks on Hurricane Harvey in Texas (57 percent say his administration has done enough, vs. 27 percent who say it hasn't), Hurricane Irma in Florida (57 to 26) and the massacre in Las Vegas (50 to 34).
In other words, people are willing to see the good in Trump's responses, but they just aren't seeing it on Puerto Rico.
And Thursday's tweets will probably only exacerbate that. Undergirding the sense that the administration hasn't come through in Puerto Rico is the belief that Trump simply doesn't care about the heavily Hispanic U.S. territory. Asked whether Trump “cares about the problems facing Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria,” a majority — 52 percent — say he doesn't, while just 43 percent say he does.
Another way of looking at how troubling this should be for the administration is the comparison to Hurricane Katrina — the last major hurricane to see a botched federal response and cost the sitting president dearly.
It's now been three weeks since Maria hit Puerto Rico. At about this point after Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 44 percent approving of President George W. Bush's response and 54 percent disapproving. A CNN poll, meanwhile, showed 41 percent retaining positive views of Bush's response and 57 percent disapproving.
Those negative-10 and negative-16 net approvals are better than Trump's negative 19 at a similar juncture.
That's not to say Maria will become Trump's Katrina. As the president has helpfully pointed out, many more died in New Orleans in 2005. There is also plenty to play out when it comes to the federal response. In both cases, we perhaps didn't know the full scope of the devastation or the failings of the response just three weeks on. And Puerto Rico certainly hasn't resonated immediately with the American people as Katrina did, perhaps partially owing to its status as a U.S. territory and not a state.
But if Trump's tweets Thursday proved anything, it's that he's treating this situation significantly differently than other recent tragedies. I've argued before that this particular set of circumstances threatened to find its way into Trump's blind spot. And the early reviews suggest that the American people sense a chief executive who isn't on top of things — or worse, doesn't even care.