Swing State Pres

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

BTRTN February 2017 Month in Review: Random Acts of Mindlessness

Any hope that somehow Donald Trump would emerge from his triumph as a unifier and a statesman, even of the de minimus kind, has been completely shattered in his first 40 days.

So has the idea that he would capitalize on the opportunity presented by his first 100 days to drive through a series of legislative and executive initiatives that would thrust his agenda onto America.

Instead, we are left with the indelible image of a man alone each evening in the White House, transfixed by cable news, appalled at his portrayal by CNN while mining FOX News for intelligence information that somehow eluded his daily security briefing, sleeping fitfully over this witches’ brew, and reconstituting the resulting bile into morning tweets, leaving his Administration’s cooler heads, such as they are, spending the rest of the day cleaning up the mess.

The main theme of the last month is shrill words (tweets, speeches and executive orders) masquerading as action, with deflection running interference.  Trump is engaging in full-scale warfare with the media, our own national security apparatus and our allies, as a means of deflecting attention from the desultory start of his presidency.

Gliding above the miasma of the daily chaos, there were three major stories of the month, and each was linked to a larger theme.

First, the ongoing travel ban saga, which is linked to the overall failure of the Trump Administration to take bold, effective (in its own view) action in its outset.  The hastily written, ill-conceived and non-syndicated ban resulted in the mindnumbing optics of innocent students and family members being held captive in airports, quickly segueing into the mass protests – another random act of mindlessness that plagued the new Administration, causing it to hit the ground not running, but stumbling, in this instance falling face first in the dust.

Because the travel ban saga was just getting started.  Soon the judges weighed in and squelched the ban it is entirety, in a non-partisan manner.  Trump and company skulked back to the drawing board, refusing to risk humiliation with the Supreme Court, and trying to devise some other more tightly-defined and legal “Muslim ban,” which of course was the original goal and certainly remains the intent.

The bigger picture here is that the Trump Administration has not done very much as yet.  The travel ban was the sole Executive Order with teeth, unlike the looking-rather-silly orders to “defeat ISIS” or “seek the prompt repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (Obamacare).  Without the travel ban…there is no big accomplishment.  The Obama Administration passed its mammoth American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a., the stimulus) on February 17, 2009.   The Trump Administration is nowhere close to legislation of that magnitude, nor has it shown any ability at all to organize an effort that might get one done.  Obamacare (more on that later) remains a major headache for the GOP, the Wall is not close to getting funding approval, and tax reform, also politically a minefield, will not even be taken up by Congress until the summer, and will simmer for many months after that, if not into 2018.

The second major story of the month was the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a mere 24 days into his tenure, besmirching the Administration.  This fiasco is linked to the larger story of the Trump’s remarkably friendly posture to Russia and the seemingly bottomless pit of ties and communications the Trumpsters have with our sworn enemy of the last 70 years.  This is in parallel to the remarkably shabby treatment Trump has inflicted on allies from the UK (breaking protocol by suggesting an right-wing nutcase as Ambassador to the U.S.), to Germany (doesn’t trust Merkel any more or less than Putin), Australia (hung up on their Prime Minister), Sweden (reference to a FOX-fake-news story on the impact of immigration on that country), Mexico (need I detail it all?), the European Union (“flawed”), NATO (“obsolete”) and on and on. 

Flynn’s short career trajectory resembled that of Mili Vanilli, except Flynn’s lips were saying too much.  His infraction, according to Trump, was not the utterly mindless act of speaking to the Russians about the freshly-minted Obama sanctions nearly a month before assuming office (a seeming violation of the Logan Act), but rather for lying to Mike Pence about it, who in turn defended him on the Sunday talk show circuit.  The inexplicable warmth to Russia – inexplicable to everyone – is quite possibly the most disturbing aspect of the Trump Administration, and that is a very high bar.  What Trump hopes to accomplish by cozying up to Putin is not fathomable – to anyone – but, predictably, Putin is now testing Trump, sending warships off the coast of Delaware, buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea, and testing a banned class of cruise missiles in the homeland.  What next?

An offshoot of the Flynn/Russia storyline is the ridiculously bad relationship that Trump has developed with his own national security apparatus, accusing the FBI of rampant leaks and the CIA of incompetent intelligence and ignoring the entire State Department, including Rex Tillerson.  If anyone has the goods on Trump, it is the FBI and CIA, and it will be interesting to see if James Comey – of all people – begins to intentionally fatten his Trump file, channeling his inner J. Edgar Hoover.  (Oh, right, Comey is a man of unimpeachable integrity, I forgot.)  And the Watergate era mantra has returned…what did the President know and when did he know it?

Speaking of the FBI, another twist came when Reince Priebus apparently thought it was a terrific idea to ask them to “knock down” (that is, proclaim false) a New York Times story on the links of the Trump campaign with the Russian Government, yet another tributary to be traversed in the river of congressional investigations afoot on the whole Russian matter.

All of this sturm und drang necessitated the “Damage Control Tour,” when Mike Pence, James Mattis, John Kelly and Mike Pompeo flew from place to place across the globe, behaving like adults, saying soothing words to miffed allies, completely contradicting the twitter-rants of their boss, and generally leaving all these allies perhaps slightly mollified but definitely wondering aloud who in the U.S. Government was the ventriloquist and who was the dummy.

The third major story in February is the war on the media.  There can be little doubting the intentions here.  Ever since George H.W. Bush uncharacteristically attacked Dan Rather on the air, the right has known that “leftist”-media-bashing is a winning strategy for the base.  You don’t need to be Steve Bannon to figure that out, though perhaps you do need to be the bedraggled Bannon to implement it so brazenly – who but him would ever think to actually ban The New York Times and CNN from a routine off-camera briefing?  Apart from this, discrediting the media in turn discredits the stories they report – every unflattering story can be dismissed as “fake news,” duh.

But the bigger picture link here is the deflection of attention.  A daily dressing down of the mainstream media is essentially an invitation to chew up a news cycle reporting that attack, and the media seems unable to avoid taking the bait.  That is the real genius.  What would Trump rather see as a headline or breaking news:  “Trump Revised Travel Ban Delayed Yet Again” or “Trump Bans New York Times.”  A no-brainer, and, while the media has certainly woken up to its responsibility to hold Trump accountable for his lies, they now need to focus on his policies, programs and progress and stop giving his relentless media attacks oxygen.

Those are the big items of February, 2017.  Plenty else happened – Trump’s cabinet is still getting confirmed, one (Puzder of Labor) had to withdraw for basically being despicable, another (DeVos of Education) made it in only by the vote of Vice President Pence – and proceeded to get a rude awakening to the limits of her authority when Trump revoked Obama’s protections of transgender bathroom preferences over her objections.  Trump went weeks failing to acknowledge the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks around the country.  He finally gave in (perhaps due to Ivanka’s pleading) and read a statement that contained the right words but was delivered with little heart.  Speaking of Ivanka, Kellyanne Conway apparently thought that shamelessly hawking the Ivanka brand could not possibly be an ethics violation, and this ate up a news cycle.

Coming soon?  Trump’s budget proposal is probably DOA even to his fellow Republicans.  His late-breaking call for immigration reform was a head-scratcher given his own rather strident positions on the subject.  And Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, a judge who comes in gentle packaging but legal scholars rate as being to the right of Alito, if that is even possible.

That nomination sets up a potential battle of the ages over Gorsuch’s nomination.  The Dems – remember them? – almost thoroughly emasculated their ability to fight back several years ago by nearly scuttling the 60-vote Senate filibuster power, forgetting that they too might be in the minority someday.  Now they only have that weapon for Supreme Court nominees, and let’s see if they stay unified and use that power to deny Trump his first pick.  Or the GOP could display its own stupendous lack of foresight and decide to get rid of the 60-vote rule for the Court picks as well to push him through.

The month ended last night with Trump’s address to Congress, which he delivered soberly and on script.  Suffice to say, big promises were made in areas in which even Republicans are far from agreement.  Trump’s presidency thus far has been defined by chaos, words masquerading as action; now he has to actually deliver on those promises.

Approval Rating

Trump’s approval rating has held more or less steady since Inauguration, holding at 45%.  His “disapproval rating” has increased, though, by 5 points on average.   This means that a portion of the “wait and see” group does not like what is sees so far.  It also means that Trump is “underwater” with a net negative approval of -5.

But the GOP is hanging with Trump even through this incredible bad start.  And you will not see GOP members jumping ship unless and until these numbers go further south.  We are not as far away from 2018 as you might think, when all of the House and one-third of the Senate is up for re-election.  Right now the GOP members who will be in contested races are very worried, because you cannot be embracing Trump with his low approval ratings, and you will be tied to him by your opponent unless you make a clean break.  The lower the approval ratings, the more GOP members of Congress will be confronted with the “embrace or defect” choice.

TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

Jan
Feb
Approve
45
45
Disapprove
45
50
Margin
0
-5

Trump’s approval rating remains at historic lows, not just when compared to his immediate predecessors but also including all presidents measured by Gallup back to Truman.  None of the last dozen presidents have ever had an approval rating below 50 (or a net negative approval) within their first 40 days in office.  Obama had started moving down at this point, but his was the highest at Inauguration among his contemporaries.  Bush had gone up, while Clinton had remained about the same.

GALLUP APPROVAL RATING
First-term President
Inaug. Day
Feb 28
Change
Trump 
45%
42%
-3%
Obama 
68%
64%
-4%
Bush 
57%
62%
5%
Clinton 
58%
59%
1%

Trumpometer

An explanation of the Trumpometer can be found at the end of this article, but basically it is a simple way to compare how the economy is performing under Trump in comparison to the day he inherited its stewardship – January 20, 2017 (and to his immediate predecessors).  We developed it to provide a simple gauge to assess the question, “are we better off now than when this President took office?” 

The Trumpometer has barely moved since Inauguration Day, of course, and Trump cannot be held accountable for its movements as yet (although he certainly has taken credit for the stock market surge and perhaps rightfully so, given the promise of “pro-business” reforms in the tax and regulatory environment.)   In time, of course, he will be held accountable for how these measures perform.

The Trumpometer thus stands at “1” (versus the re-set to “0” on his first day in office) with the modest upward movement driven by a 1,000-point rise in the stock market.  Not too much more to be said about this for now.

Clinton ends; Bush begins 1/20/2001
Bush ends; Obama begins 1/20/2009
Obama ends; Trump begins 1/20/2017
Trump in progress         Feb 28, 2017
Clintonometer
Bushometer
Obameter
Trumpometer

25
-53
0
1
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
4.8
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
115
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.43
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
20,812
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
1.9
1.9


Obamacare/ACA Approval

One of Trump’s biggest campaign promises, of course, was to get rid of Obamacare and replace it with “something terrific”.  The GOP, of course, is confounded by the ownership of the problem, longing for the days when they could pass repeal bill after repeal bill without any accountability for the outcome (since these repeals had no chance of becoming law).  They cannot agree on a replacement plan, much less a replacement plan that doesn’t result in takeaways, as Trump has promised, from anyone currently covered by Obamacare.  Now even John Boehner is publicly mocking the very idea of “repeal and replace.”

Some GOP voters are starting to clue-in to the potential loss of their own health care coverage – some did not even realize that their own health care plan is enabled by Obamacare, and others had no idea that the “Affordable Care Act” (the ACA) is the exact same thing as “Obamacare.”

But one thing is indisputable – positive attitudes toward Obamacare are starting to rise.  Obamacare has been a net negative in popularity since it was enacted in 2010, by double-digit or high single digit margins.  But once Trump was elected, and Americans started becoming educated on the real impact of repeal, there has been a marked upturn in how it is viewed, and it is now it is a net positive (+3).  And among those who oppose Obamacare, only about half want it repealed.

This, of course, makes the GOP’s case even weaker, and I will not be at all surprised if the GOP ultimately ends up focusing on fixing Obamacare, doing what it should have been doing for six years now – making it better.

OBAMACARE POPULARITY

2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016 Jan-Oct
Nov '16 to 2017
For/favor
40
39
41
40
40
42
41
48
Against/oppose
53
52
51
52
53
50
49
45
Margin
-13
-13
-10
-12
-13
-8
-8
+3

******************************************************

Explanation of Trumpometer

We picked (long ago) five measures that we thought were easily understood and long accepted as indicative of economic strength:

1)     The Unemployment Rate (U3), issued monthly by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. 
2)     Consumer Confidence, measured monthly by the Conference Board
3)     Price of gasoline, reported weekly by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
4)     The Dow Jones Industrial Average
5)     The GDP, measured quarterly

Using these five measures, we then create a simple index.  We pick a point-in-time “baseline” – which we will now make January 20, 2017, Trump’s Inauguration Day – and calculate the percentage change on each measure going forward versus that baseline, and then take an average of those percentage changes.

You can see how it works with the chart below.  The economy was in good shape on January 20, 2001, the day Bill Clinton turned the White House over to George W. Bush.  Unemployment was low (4.2%), Consumer Confidence was high (well over 100, at 129), the price of gas was low (1.27 per gallon), the Dow was strong at 10,588 and the GDP was roaring at 4.5% in Q4 2000.  When Bush left office – the middle column – the picture was starkly different.  Unemployment was soaring (7.8%), Consumer Confidence was in the pits (38), the Dow was well below where it was 8 years before, and the GDP was an abysmal -6.2.  You will recall a nation in the midst of its worst recession since the Depression.  Under Obama, the recovery is nearly complete, with the numbers resembling those in Clinton’s time, with the exception of GDP growth which has been decent but not “roaring.”

The Trumpometer Index captures this nicely.  Clinton’s end number of 25 means that the economy then was, on average (using these measures), about 25% stronger on each measure than it is now, driven mostly by that GDP number.  Bush’s end number was 53% worse than that of today.  So it is fair to say that, under Obama, the economy made it almost all the way back to the Clinton Era.  And now we re-set the Index, re-name it the Trumpometer, and see – objectively – where he takes it. 

Clinton ends; Bush begins 1/20/2001
Bush ends; Obama begins 1/20/2009
Obama ends; Trump begins 1/20/2017
Trump in progress         Feb 28, 2017
Clintonometer
Bushometer
Obameter
Trumpometer

25
-53
0
1
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
4.8
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
115
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.43
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
20,812
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
1.9
1.9



No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment