Plenty of presidents have wrapped themselves in patriotic themes on the campaign trail while stitching together an international order once in office. President George Bush won election in 1988 in part on flag-waving, Pledge of Allegiance themes, but he was a leading proponent of a “new world order” in the post-Cold War era with the United States at its head.
Mr. Trump’s version of nationalism likewise varies from that of President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most unabashed nationalists ever to serve in the White House. Roosevelt was an unapologetic champion of America in the world and an opponent of surrendering sovereignty to the League of Nations, but he also advocated a more assertive federal government at home.
In a famous speech in Osawatomie, Kan., in 1910, after leaving office but before mounting an ill-fated comeback, Roosevelt outlined what he called a “New Nationalism” that was aimed at curbing the excesses of business and promoting social welfare, arguing that human rights were more important than property rights.
Mr. Trump’s reference to his international approval rating appeared to refer to a recent 25-nation survey by the Pew Research Center, which found that a median of just 27 percent of those interviewed outside the United States had confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs while 70 percent did not. That figure was even lower among some of America’s staunchest allies — 10 percent in Germany and 9 percent in France — and the lowest in Mexico at 6 percent. But it has jumped to 69 percent in Israel, which Mr. Trump has backed strongly in its decades-old conflict with the Palestinians.
“The most unpopular president,” Mr. Trump reflected in Houston. “Think of that. Most unpopular president. But I’m one of the most popular presidents in this country, and that’s good.”
That would be true only if he meant incumbent presidents, of course, since he is the only one. Among other presidents, his poll numbers remain low. Both President George W. Bush, viewed favorably by 61 percent of Americans, and Mr. Obama, at 66 percent, rated higher in a CNN poll this year.
Still, Mr. Trump’s ratings at home are on the upswing. A new survey by The Journal and NBC News put his approval at 47 percent, the highest of his presidency in that poll. His message is being adopted by Republicans in red states like Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere. Party leaders detect new momentum.
In Houston, the crowd booed at the mention of the word “globalist” and cheered the word “nationalist,” erupting in a boisterous chant of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” And that was all the approval Mr. Trump needed, no matter what the rest of the world might think.