The old wives’ tale is true. Bad things do happen in threes, at least to the threesome of Donald Trump, Kirk Caldwell, and David Ige. 

All three of these politicians now have similarly awful approval ratings in the 30s. 

Trump’s is at 39 percent nationally. In Hawaii, according to The Civil Beat Poll, it’s 32 percent, the same as Caldwell’s. Ige’s 35 percent is hardly better.

Down there in the dumps with Trump, who knew? How did such very different politicians end up in the same unpopular place?

Each took a different path. Trump’s story is about foreshadowing, Caldwell’s is about unanticipated disaster. And Ige’s? Well, his tale is as mild and murky as he is.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Governor David Ige embrace after second print out. 8 nov 2016

Gov. David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Election Night in November, when Caldwell won re-election.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A Predictable Low

Trump’s story is not how low his presidential approval ratings are now. It’s about how very low they’ve been all along and how little they have declined.

At 45 percent, Trump’s approval rating when he first took office was well below the 53 percent average for presidents at that stage.

During the 2016 race there was plenty of evidence that come July 2017, Trump’s approval rating would be that low. 

Is anybody surprised by the president’s unpopularity?

Flickr: Michael Vadon

Polls during the campaign consistently showed that he, and for that matter Hillary Clinton, had historically low negative ratings. There were a lot of reluctant Trump voters.

Add the fact that he lost the popular vote and you come up with this: Trump had no firm cushion of approval to begin with.

But as weird and whacky as his first six months have been, his approval numbers have dropped just 6 points, mainly because of the political polarization, which is a continuation of a pattern that was deeply entrenched in American politics well before 2016.

Republican and Democratic voters are polarized on almost every significant political issue. Today a person is much more likely than before to distrust a president from the opposing party.

So it should not surprise that his 39 percent national approval rating conceals huge differences. Close to 80 percent of Republicans approve of him, compared to only 9 percent of Democrats.

As unprecedented as Trump is, his approval rating is part of the same old story: his pre-election unpopularity and voters’ continuing polarization.

Disaster Arrives On The Rail

Kirk Caldwell’s story is sure not about the same-old, same-old. It’s about disaster hitting the mayor just when he thought he had become the master of disaster.

Before and throughout the 2016 mayoral race, Caldwell’s approval rating was up in the 60s, but in a recent poll taken just nine months after the mayor’s re-election it dropped by half.

In a blink of a political eye the mayor’s status went from “You win!” to “You suck!”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell presser. 1 nov 2016

The mayor is the poster child for the over-budget rail project.

Rail was supposed to be Caldwell’s downfall in the 2016 race against Charles Djou, who hammered at the incumbent’s lack of ethics and especially his bad rail management skills.

But Caldwell won again, easily. The voters’ attitude seemed to be: yeah well, Djou is, after all, a Republican, and he does not have a rail plan any better than Kirk’s. So, I guess, what the heck…

Caldwell’s relationship with the voters was like the one Huey Lewis describes in his song, “Stuck With You”:

Yes, it’s true, I’m so happy to be stuck with you

‘Cause I can see that you’re happy to be stuck with me.

This kind of OK attitude toward Caldwell changed because rail came back to bite the mayor in the okole even harder than it had before. And just when he hoped that his victory gave him some breathing space.

Rail costs went up again. And again. During their recent session, legislators called Caldwell a liar and a concealer as they frustratingly and unsuccessfully tried to shovel out of a mess that they blamed on the mayor. 

And the federal transit money people gave rail’s progress report at best an incomplete. Even the staunch rail supporter Star Advertiser did not have much good to say about him.

More than ever, certainly more than he was in the either of his mayoral elections, Caldwell has become the poster child of rail failure.

“Happy to be stuck with you” has turned into “I’m going home to Mother.”

An Uncompelling Mystery

David Ige’s story is as hard to unpack as the governor himself. His approval ratings have never been high, generally in the 40s. Then they began to decline for no obvious reason, clear foreshadowing or crippling disaster.

The best way to explain this decline is to look at how much of an anomaly his win over the incumbent, Neil Abercrombie, was in the first place.

That victory was not just big. It was historically unprecedented. But what was most impressive about it was the voters’ willingness to vote for Ige despite knowing so little about him. He defied the conventional wisdom that you need a high degree of name recognition to be a successful candidate.

Governor David Ige presser Governor trip DC. 9 march 2017

Blandness isn’t proving to be an advantage for the governor.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige was an unformed candidate running against Abercrombie who was, it seems, way too formed. That turned into Ige’s advantage.

But it has now turned out also to be a disadvantage.

Blandness can sometime work for politicians by keeping them out of trouble. Not so in Ige’s case. Voters still don’t know enough about him to feel comfortable being stuck with him.

He’s a mystery, but not a compelling mystery.

To the public, Gov. Ige is like a rebound from an obnoxious ex-boyfriend: a calming relief at first, but enough with the calmness. Maybe it’s time to reboot the eHarmony profile.

The last governor’s race proved that it’s possible for an incumbent to be boisterously unpopular enough to lose to anybody.

The next governor’s race may show that it is possible for an incumbent to be blandly unpopular enough to do the same.

Of course, each of these stories is still a work in progress. Who can say what will happen to any of them?

But going back to bad things happening in threes:

Three coins in the fountain.

Which one will the fountain bless?

Quite possibly, none.

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