ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There wasn't much fanfare at the White House today when President Trump signed the $1 and a half trillion tax cut. There weren't any lawmakers there. The event was thrown together quickly, so there was just a handful of reporters and cameras.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were going to wait till January 7 or 8 and do a big, formal ceremony, but every one of the networks was saying, will he keep his promise? Will he sign it for Christmas, before Christmas? And so I immediately called. I said, let's get it ready.
SHAPIRO: Trump is eager to win public approval for the tax cut. So far, public approval for this president has been hard to come by, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Trump says the tax cut will add rocket fuel to the U.S. economy, but the economy is already in high orbit with solid job growth, a booming stock market and strong consumer confidence. Meanwhile, Republican pollster Whit Ayres says Trump himself is stuck on the launch pad, his approval rating mired below 40 percent.
WHIT AYRES: Donald Trump is a non-traditional president, and one of the traditions he's broken is the usual link between economic well-being and presidential job approval.
HORSLEY: Polls show somewhat higher approval for Trump's economic stewardship, but White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders accuses the news media of ignoring that.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly not talking about the growing economy, not talking about the creation of jobs. Ninety percent of the coverage is negative about this president.
HORSLEY: But Ayres says Trump is hardly the first president to get critical press coverage. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin says surveys suggest many Americans are still giving former President Obama credit for the strong economy. Most of the positive trends did begin on his watch. Moreover, Garin says many Americans suspect Trump's policies primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy, a suspicion that was reinforced by the newly signed tax bill.
GEOFF GARIN: For a president who ran on a populist platform, voters now see him more and more not looking out for the little guy but looking out for the people at the very top.
HORSLEY: Trump argues public attitudes towards the tax bill and perhaps his presidency will improve early next year when the vast majority of workers will start to see savings in their paychecks. But Garin insists public sentiment is likely to get worse if Republicans push for changes to popular entitlement programs as House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested.
GARIN: I think what's likely to happen over the course of the next year is not just disappointment among voters that they got a little and the people at the very top got a lot, but the things they count on like Medicare and Medicaid are at risk because there is a need now to offset the cost of these huge tax cuts that have been given to corporations and the wealthy.
HORSLEY: Trump campaigned against cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell says any changes to those programs will have to be bipartisan. Pollsters say even voters who support Trump are not primarily impressed by his economic policies but rather by his style and personality. Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center says for better or worse, that's overshadowed much of the positive economic news.
CARROLL DOHERTY: For the first year of his presidency, his ratings were driven to a great degree by his own temperament, his own personality, his own actions more than policy. It will be interesting to know if this sort of changes a little bit after a major policy enactment.
HORSLEY: Whit Ayres says it would help if the president could avoid some of the Twitter fights and personal squabbles that have dominated much of the storyline of his first year. But the GOP pollster adds he's not holding his breath.
AYRES: No. Do we see any signs that a 70-year-old man will change the way he has negotiated the world for the last few decades? I doubt it.
HORSLEY: Pollsters from across the spectrum say if Trump's approval rating stays this low through 2018, it could be a serious drag on GOP prospects in the midterm elections. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.