Sunday, October 1, 2017

BTRTN September 2017 Month in Review: Trump's Best Month Yet. Really???

Tom with the BTRTN monthly update.  The numbers say this was Trump's best month yet, but that is hard to fathom.

North Korea successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.  The efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare died a new death, and this time for good.  The United States failed to support adequately Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.  Jared Kushner and other White House officials were discovered to have created private email accounts to conduct government business after the election.  Trump’s candidate of choice in the Alabama Senate run-off election, Luther Strange, for whom he personally campaigned, was thrashed.  Robert Mueller’s investigation heated up considerably and is now clearly focused on Trump himself.  And Secretary of Health Human Services Tom Price was forced to resign after proving himself to be the Master of the Swamp with profligate spending of taxpayer money on private jets.

And this was a good month for Donald Trump.

How so, you may ask?  Quite simply, for the first time, Trump managed to achieve an increase in his approval rating, after seven months of steady declines; it edged back up to 40%, matching June and July levels, after dipping to 38% in a hideous August.  Essentially, Trump received decent marks for his performance in response to Hurricanes Harvey (in Texas) and Irma (Florida), and also for his budget/debt ceiling/Harvey funding deal with the devil – er, Democrats. This is what passes for “wins” in Trumpworld these days, and they gave him the approval bump.

Donald Trump changed tactics in September, abandoning a reflexive hard-right ideology in exchange for expediency.   Whether this was a true strategic shift or a whim of the moment remains to be seen.

The new pattern started with his casual dumping of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in the highly anticipated September budget/debt ceiling battles.  His solution, rather than back McConnell to fight tooth and nail for every square inch of turf, was to accept the Democrats’ first offer, to essentially kick the can down the road until December with no strings attached.  His motivation was almost certainly to get an easy win rather than bank on McConnell again and risk another loss.  Trump was giddy over the positive coverage he received for reaching across the aisle, even though he put himself in a far weaker negotiating position three months hence when that deal expires, infuriating mainstream and conservative Republicans alike.

Chuck and Nancy can hardly contain their glee
The next ideological soft-shoe came a week later, the “DACA two-step.”  Here, Trump initially sided with the hardliners, agreeing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions in stripping DACA protections.  But in the same breadth, he expressed conflicting feelings about the position and insisted on a six-month grace period in which he promised to work (again) with Democrats on a new deal to protect the Dreamers.  Clearly he has no interest in deporting Dreamers, another position contrary to Republican “no amnesty” dogma.

Trump has thus begun careening rather wildly along the ideological spectrum: tough talk, including race-baiting, to keep the base happy (by attacking NFL and NBA players and repeating his Charlottesville comments), backing Luther Strange in the Alabama race to help the “mainstream” McConnell, and cutting deals with “Chuck and Nancy.”  Thus far, the latter actions have not cost him with rank and file right-wingers, although leading conservatives, including Ann Coulter (“at this point, who DOESN”T want Trump impeached?”) are aghast.  Whether Trump can continue to change dance partners so cavalierly without penalty remains to be seen, but in September it appears to have been a winning strategy.

“Careening” is also a reasonable word to describe his foreign policy, goading Kim Jong-Un with personal insults while the world holds its breath in the hope that one of these two madmen does not tire of words and instead exercise an itchy trigger finger.  Trump’s inflammatory words in his first UN speech were hardly calculated to defuse a highly volatile situation, and did little to reassure anyone that he had a handle on how to manage the crisis.

But while the month represented improvement, for Trump, albeit modest, it ended with a terrible week.  (How many times have we read that Trump endured a “terrible week”?).  There was the NFL/national anthem flap, which led to charges that Trump was more focused on the NFL than the plight of Puerto Rico; the death knell for Trumpcare, which was, of course, the rallying promise for the GOP in countless elections over the past seven years; the defeat of Luther Strange in Alabama, which exposed Trump’s inability to translate his popularity into election night might; then the growing outcry over the laggard response in Puerto Rico; and finally the discovery that Secretary Tom Price has spent over $1 million taxpayer dollars on private jets, leading to his swift resignation.  Trump then took on a fight he cannot win, with the Mayor of San Juan, in which Trump declared that Puerto Rico officials “want everything to be done for them.”  It’s hard to imagine a more callous comment.  The hits keep coming, and we’ll see where Trump’s approval rating goes from here.

The significance of the Alabama election should not be lost in the wake of the other flaps and disasters.  We might very well see more Roy Moores coming forward to challenge mainstream GOP incumbents in the primaries next year, emboldened by Moore’s victory (particularly if he wins in December).  This sets up the potential for the “Christine O’Connell Phenomenon,” in which the GOP loses a sure seat by nominating a hard-right buffoon instead of an eminently electable mainstreamer.  (O’Connell defeated veteran GOP Congressman Mike Castle, who was favored to take back the seat, in the 2010 Delaware Senate primary, and promptly lost the general election to Democrat Chris Coons.) Of course, Steve Bannon would argue that 2016 changed all that, as we elected the biggest buffoon of them all for the highest office of them all (perhaps Bannon might not put it quite that way; then again, perhaps he would.)

Going forward, Trump’s legislative hopes are now pinned entirely on tax reform, which, if successful, would be the first such effort in 31 years.  It is widely believed that tax reform is far trickier than health care, and ominous clouds are already forming.  Just as a sampler, Republicans in states with high state taxes, such as New York, are already rebelling against the notion of eliminating the deduction of state taxes.

And thus the key to the GOP success in the midterms – defined as holding onto both Houses -- rests on shaky pillars: passing some form of tax reform, keeping North Korea from exploding, maintaining the healthy economy they inherited from Obama and managing other crises that will surely emerge.  This is not a winning hand.

THE NUMBERS

As stated, Trump ended a seven-month streak of ever-worsening approval ratings, though he is still in abysmal shape with -15 net approval.  These continue to be ominous numbers for the midterms and for reelection purposes, historically low.

TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Approve
46
46
43
43
42
40
40
38
40
Disapprove
46
50
52
52
54
56
56
57
55
Margin
0
-4
-8
-9
-12
-16
-16
-19
-15

As we said last month, Trump’s predecessors who won re-election had far higher approval ratings just prior to their re-elections:  Reagan (58%), Clinton (54%), George W. Bush (48%) and Obama (50%), while the two who failed to gain a second term were exactly in Trump’s current range: Carter (37%) and George H.W. Bush (34%).  Trump has a ways to go to get there, assuming he escapes Mueller’s worst, but he has squandered his honeymoon, failed to capitalize on GOP control of all three branches of government, and shown little ability to fight for his legislative priorities and manage disasters when they inevitably arise (e.g., North Korea and Hurricane Marie).  Thus the catalyst for material improvement is difficult to see.

THE TRUMP-O-METER

The economy continues to be a solid story for Trump, and one that is surprisingly lost in his own Twitter-feed.  While the “Trumpometer” dipped in the last month from +13 to +12, the current number still means that key economic indicators are 12% better now, on average, than they were on Inauguration Day, driven largely by a strong Q2 GDP and a roaring stock market.

TRUMPOMETER
End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 8/31/2017
Trump 9/30/2017
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)

25
-53
0
13
12
12%
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
4.4
4.4
6%
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
123
120
6%
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.51
2.70
-11%
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
21,948
22,405
14%
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
3.0
3.1
48%





1 comment:

  1. Interesting read, I like your style of writing however not much of a fan of trump so cant comment much on that. Although really enjoyed some of your previous posts so keep up the good work.

    ReplyDelete

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