Sunday, July 2, 2017

BTRTN June 2017 Month in Review: The Dirge

Tom on another miserable month in a miserable presidency.

THE MONTH

Donald Trump's sad excuse of a presidency is settling into a wretched dirge.  The world may be on fire -- another round of frightening terror attacks, no deterrent to North Korea’s escalating nuclear weapons program, an extraordinarily devastating health care insurance bill hanging in the balance – but the President of the United States is occupying his time and attention with an ongoing personal brawl with two television hosts over plastic surgery and The National Enquirer.  That is, when he is not "obsessed" (using Dan Coats' word) by the Russia investigation.  It has come to this.

The month has proven to be another exercise in distraction, with the Trump Administration pursuing, single-mindedly, an active strategy of all-out war with the media.  The White House has been shut out of the health care talks by Mitch McConnell, has delegated military strategy to the Pentagon, and is essentially running a different foreign policy than that of its very own Secretary of State.  In the wake of Trump’s decision to revoke U.S. support of the Paris Accords, our allies have given up on us.  Trump admitted that his “China Strategy” of controlling North Korea has failed (surprise!), there is no Afghanistan policy, and Trump can’t seem to strike the right tone in the wake of various UK terrorist attacks, using them as forums to pick fights on issues and people (e.g. the Mayor of London) rather than a show of solidarity.

Did we mention that this was the month that James Comey publicly testified to what at the very least seems to be, to any layman, a strong case for obstruction of justice?  That the Washington Post reported that Trump himself was now officially under investigation for obstruction, a report apparently confirmed by Trump himself and then reversed by one of his lawyers, who made the absurd argument that Trump was confined to 140 characters and thus could not explain himself fully?  (Trump, of course, is expert at running series of tweets that collectively allow for many multiples of 140.)  That Special Counsel Robert Mueller interviewed Mike Rogers and Dan Coates, who have nothing to do with the collusion case but are intimately involved in the obstruction issue, thereby essentially confirming the Post?

Here is what passed for “wins” this month for the White House:  abandoning 194 other nations in the Paris Accords, joining only two others in rejecting them (one of whom because the Accords did not go far enough, in their view); the Supreme Court’s decision to lift parts of the notorious travel ban, until the case is heard this fall; and Trump not blowing the message after a gunman badly wounded House Whip Steve Scalise at a GOP baseball practice.  That…is….it.

We are well past the novelty of an unconventional president, well past the point when a “New Trump” (like the many “New Nixons”) might have emerged, well past any thoughts of Trump translating his victory into a legislative record the GOP could be proud of (however hideous it might be).  We have settled into this miserable march, replete with senseless tweets, personal vendettas, classless insults, a stalled agenda, sycophantic Cabinet meetings, titillating statements (e.g., White House Tapes) that are later withdrawn, discrediting Robert Mueller, self-proclaimed P.R. plays like “Infrastructure Week” and “Energy Week” that are trampled in the message game by Trump himself, no foreign policy and an increasingly exhausted and frustrated America.

There is no end in sight.  Many of us are truly horrified by all of this and have been since Election night; some of us were willing to give Trump a shot and are now basically unhappy, and some of us are still applauding.  The Mueller investigation has begun in earnest and it will be methodical and lengthy.  Steel yourself America, this is the way it is going to be for many, many months.

THE NUMBERS

Trump’s approval rating remains at roughly 40%, in and of itself another sign of our collective stalemate.  I am often asked how anyone could possibly approve of the way things are going.  There is truth, of course, to the parallel universe theory that Trump supporters live in their own world of media, blogs and alternative facts that support the notion that this has been a successful presidency.

But I think other factors – that take into account the many misfires – are also at play.  First, Trump supporters are simply happy that, after eight years of Obama, the agenda in play and the discussion around it, is a conservative one.  Second, even if Trump supporters believe he has not accomplished much as yet, they are far more likely to blame Congress (see: health care), or the courts (travel ban) or, less rationally, the Deep State (that they believe exists for the sole purpose of trying to torpedo Trump)  rather than Trump himself.  And third, even those Trump supporters who accept that he is utterly failing can still take solace in the fact that, in their view, it was much worse under Obama and would have been even worse under Hillary Clinton.

But the approval rating is falling, about a point a month, and the “net negative” is widening, now at -14.  Trump may not be in the true Danger Zone of the 20-30% range, where GOP congressmen dump him as the midterms approach.  But he is also a long way from the Reelection Zone that is much closer to 50%.  The trajectory is downward, and there does not appear to be any near-term catalyst to break the trend.

TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Approve
46
46
43
43
42
41
Disapprove
46
50
52
52
54
55
Net
0
-4
-8
-9
-12
-14

TRUMPOMETER

It’s easy to forget that Trump was essentially elected on an economic platform – the promise of jobs for the working class.  “America First” seems to be playing out more on the foreign policy side, with the Paris Accords and the lukewarm stance on NATO.  But “America First” was first and foremost about jobs.

Trump, despite his protestations otherwise, inherited a good situation, with a dwindling unemployment rate, modest GDP growth, and good prospects for both.  While he is claiming credit for the continuation of good news, the burden is shifting to him to make good on his promise for 4% GDP growth.  He surely will  point to tax reform as a key pillar required to achieve such a huge spike, and that is no lay-up.  The Administration has already walked back its promise for August passage of the bill, and they will be laughably later than that, if they achieve a bill at all.

For now, we track the Trumpometer, which is at -2, little changed since the Inaugural.  The unemployment rate has dropped, the stock market has been strong, consumer confidence remains high and the price of gas has fallen.  But Trump now owns that GDP number…stay tuned.

"Clinton-ometer"        1/20/2001
"Bush-      ometer"        1/20/2009
"Obameter"      1/20/2017
"Trump-ometer" 5/31/2017
"Trump-ometer" 6/30/2017

25
-53
0
-4
-2
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
4.4
4.3
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
118
119
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.52
2.40
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
21,009
21,350
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
1.4
1.4



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