by Nicola Lamb

Like a Matryoshka doll, Donald Trump looks a lot smaller underneath the big, blustery outer shell he shows the world.

On the face of it, the US President-elect is an imposing figure. He floats on an invisible air of celebrity, money, brazenness and power. He gives the impression of seemingly inhabiting the presidential role already rather than having to get used to it, because he's used to inhabiting that world, like shrugging into a suit jacket.

He's physically tall and those suits and coats pad a hulking presence. He can burst from narrow-eyed, thin-lipped quiet to bullying forcefulness in an instant. Even with limited public appearances lately, we get daily reminders of unharnessed, shouty Trump on Twitter. That volatility and contrariness - you can't be sure what he might say, and you can be sure he probably shouldn't say it - adds to an impression of dominance.

He rules news coverage and the public's attention while spraying disdain at the news media.

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Trump is a figure of fear, derision and anger.

Right now, with people around the world uncertain of what changes he will bring and what impact he will have, the fear factor expands and maybe exaggerates the psychological shadow Trump casts.

And yet the inside Trump doll is a far weaker, vulnerable figure. That second Trump is undermining the first.

During the election campaign, Trump was historically unpopular. Unfavourable numbers 20 points higher than favourable figures were normal for him.

His election win wasn't numerically impressive.

He scrambled a victory through the Electoral College, getting his base to the polls. The election was decided in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by a mere stadium of votes.

Trump's 46 per cent of the national vote was below opponent Hillary Clinton (48 per cent), Barack Obama (51.1 per cent in 2012 and 52.9 per cent in 2008), Mitt Romney (47.2 per cent in 2012), George W. Bush (50.7 per cent in 2004) and John Kerry (48.3 per cent in 2004).

Trump wasn't close in the popular vote - nearly three million behind Clinton.

Even though the popular vote doesn't decide the election, that 'loss' is still a serious liability. It is a reminder to those who oppose him that Trump doesn't feel like their president. It makes it clear to everyone that Trump's base is a minority.

Trump's current favourability rating is 42.7 per cent and his unfavourability rating is 48.7 per cent, according to RealClearPolitics.com averages. The man he is replacing, Barack Obama, has an average job approval rating of 54.1 per cent and disapproval rating of 41.1 per cent.

RCP's average of voters' views on whether the country is on the right or wrong track shows no sign of enthusiasm for the new administration. Now, 32.1 per cent say right and 56.8 per cent say wrong. A year ago, it was 30.6/58.8.

The 5th Ave matryoshka Doll. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
The 5th Ave matryoshka Doll. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

A Gallup poll released on Saturday showed 51 per cent disapproval and 44 per cent approval of Trump's performance during the transition. In comparison, 83 per cent of Americans approved of Obama at the same period in 2009. And in 2001, 61 per cent approved of Bush, while 68 per cent said the same of Bill Clinton in 1993. Gallup also found that Americans rate Trump's Cabinet picks below those of Obama, Bush and Clinton. During the transition, Trump's approval rating with independents fell from 46 per cent to 33 per cent.

A Quinnipiac University national poll last Wednesday made even more difficult reading for Trump. Obama had an approval/disapproval rating of 55-39 per cent - his best result in seven years. For Trump the result was 37-51 per cent.

Washington political reporter Glenn Thrush tweeted: "A 37% approval rating would be a major crisis for any president at any time - Trump needs a policy win, and fast."

The Washington Post reported: "The Quinnipiac poll shows a drop in confidence in Trump across the board. Although 59 per cent were optimistic about the next four years under Trump in November, today that number is 52 per cent. While 41 per cent thought he would be a better leader than President Obama, it's now 34 per cent. While 52 per cent thought he would help the nation's economy, it's now 47 per cent. While 40 per cent thought his policies would help their personal financial situation, it's now 27 per cent. While 53 per cent thought he'd take the country in the right direction, it's now 45 per cent."

The newspaper added: "There are similar drops in views of his honesty, leadership skills, compassion for average Americans, levelheadedness and his ability to unite the country."

There is simply no honeymoon. These are anaemic ratings for the President-elect. And unpopularity takes on a different dimension now he's taking over. The clout of popularity is gold for a new president.

The early days of a first term are the best chance he has of pushing through an important programme before the glow fades. For Obama, it was the economic stimulus package in 2009. RCP reports that Gallup's data shows: "In the current political climate, presidents need job approval ratings over 55 per cent and some luck to stretch their public support (to) at least nine months".

Trump has continued to act as though he remains in a primary campaign time warp. Attacks on the media, intelligence services, Washington Republicans, ethics watchdogs, Meryl Streep (Hollywood liberals) and making a show of picking business winners are plays to his base.

Trump's party controls Congress but Newsweek notes that "unified government does not always mean smooth sailing for presidents".

Professor George Edwards of Texas A&M University told RCP that Trump's 46 per cent of voter support was not a mandate. "In the absence of large majorities in both houses of Congress, enacting major changes in public policy usually requires expanding public support beyond those who identify with the president's party."

Edwards added that Trump, "begins from a weak position (and) has little chance of changing many minds ... because of the nature of public opinion. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all failed to do so. Trump will be no exception."