Swing State Pres

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

BTRTN: The State of Delusion Address

Surprise, surprise. Donald Trump thinks the state of our union is great, just great. Steve notes that if you leave out the parts about bigotry, misogyny, government dysfunction, fake news, undermining the FBI, shithole countries, and the largest investigation into possible presidential criminal activity since Watergate, then sure... 

There has always been an irony that the President who first gained national fame as a star of a reality TV show has waged the biggest battle of his presidency against reality itself. 

Last night Donald Trump opened his first State of the Union address by declaring his passionate desire for unity. Now, there are very few things that Trump supporters and opponents agree on, but the idea that Trump is passionately seeking unity? Pretty much everyone in the country can disagree with that

Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters would tell you that his appeal lies precisely in his political incorrectness. They would tell you that they love the fact that he says out loud what they secretly believe. They love the fact that Trump called a broad swath of African nations “shitholes.” They support a guy who equated neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and white supremacists with those who protested such bigotry. They would tell you that they love the fact that he says things that piss off those liberal intellectual elites.  Unity? Trump supporters adore the fact that most mornings he writes tweets that are precisely intended to bludgeon, vilify, and slander segments of our society that they loathe.

As so began the latest chapter in Donald Trump vs. Reality, the epic struggle that threatens our democracy, our sanity, and the safety of our species.

There will be many commentators who gush that Trump carried himself with gravitas, appeared measured and thoughtful, and rose to the solemn occasion. Puh-lease. Please study history, or at very least, current events. Every time Donald Trump reads a script off a teleprompter, a certain percentage of news industry pundits are fooled again. They conclude that Trump has finally “pivoted,” and that from now on he will be “presidential.” Long time Trump watchers know that there have been any number of situations in which Trump has been “handled:” his inner circle insists that in an occasion filled with risk, he must read an extremely carefully crafted speech verbatim. As canny MSNBC commentator Nicole Wallace noted before Trump even began to speak, every single time the pundits think Trump has finally stepped up, they awaken the next morning and learn that Trump has already tweeted recklessly about Muslims, NFL players, or some Hollywood star that he detests. This time, she assured us, will be no different… you can expect the next version of “shithole country” before the end of the week.

The right word for this State of the Union was that it was immensely predictable, and actually took the standard conventions of such addresses to a tasteless level. It has become the custom for Presidents of both parties to invite a small group of “ordinary people who have done extraordinary things” to sit next to the First Lady, and to be called out as examples of the selflessness, charity, and essential goodness of the American people. Donald Trump filled an entire section of seating with examples of such “real life Americans,” and his speech was largely bland self-aggrandizement in between heart-rending stories of the anguish and loss that these Americans have experienced. For Donald Trump, the use of real people became a cheap rhetorical gimmick to advance a broader thesis that immigrants are murderers. The people that Donald Trump featured were as often victims as champions, manipulated to make points that Trump could never have supported with facts. 

An example: Trump singled out a boy from California who pioneered a campaign to have flags placed on the graves of veterans. The boy and his story are impressive, indeed. Unfortunately, Trump spun out this tale so that he could land on the idea that truly patriotic Americans respect the flag… and they stand for the national anthem. It was all just a long-winded way to diss the African-American NFL players who have knelt during the anthem. Usually these stories of real individual Americans are introduced in the State of the Union as uplifting rhetorical devices to inspire and pull people together. For Donald Trump, they were gimmicks to stoke anger and division. Unity, indeed

Trump spent a good amount of his long-winded one-hour and twenty minute speech on safe pablum: we feel bad for victims of hurricanes and floods, we love our fire fighters, our gutsy EMT professionals, our police, and our men and women in military service, and we love hard-working Americans. All fine. Trump predictably sucked in every possible atom of credit for the economy, sloppily exaggerating economic indicators to aggrandize what he wants to claim credit for. 

Then, for a sustained period, Trump shifted gears and talked about all of the things that he intended to accomplish in the future. His urgent appeal for a bipartisan infrastructure bill probably sounded great to viewers who have spent most of the past year watching Game of Thrones, and who therefore may not have noticed that an infrastructure bill was one of the things Trump promised to pass last year. Trump brashly talked about how he intended to renegotiate trade agreements and the Iran nuclear deal. Throughout this section, Trump appeared to be very proud to be simply continuing to promise to do things that he failed to do in his first year in office. 

Trump's call for a trillion and a half dollars in infrastructure spending occurred less than a week after a government shutdown due to Congress's inability to agree on how tight government spending dollars are to be allocated, and mere days before another showdown looms. Trump's tax bill dramatically reduced the corporate tax rates. Small  wonder that Trump did not address the question of where the trillion-plus dollars for infrastructure will come from.

The most substantive portion of the speech was when Trump laid out his proposal for immigration reform. He characterized his policy as a shift from what he decried as a chaotic and random process to a finely tuned “merit based” system, in which the United States will admit only persons who have impeccable educational credentials and some mysterious ability to convey their superior potential to love our country. “Merit based” clearly appears to be at odds with the very words found at the Statue of Liberty, which defines our immigration policy as an embracing outreach to the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to be free. You know… all those people who actually built the United States in the first place. 

Trump sprinkled references to our police and our ICE agents throughout his speech. His reverence for such local law enforcement agents seemed to be a huge effort to compensate for the fact that his administration is currently waging a holy war against the FBI, attempting to discredit and undermine the most prominent law enforcement agency in the nation. In one hour and twenty minutes, the FBI and the CIA did not merit a single mention.
Which is probably just as well.

That was, after all, the biggest question mark going into the address. After a year of shouting fake news and that the investigation into Russian collusion was a “witch hunt,” Donald Trump did not even mention the elephant in a room dominated by elephants. Trump never even hinted at the investigation into his own administration that is gaining momentum on a daily basis. This, indeed, is perhaps the definitive reason to label Trump’s State of the Union a warmed-over conventional nerf ball. If Trump really was the kind of person who would dare to say what was on the minds of his supporters, he would have had the guts to trash-talk the investigation in his State of the Union the way he routinely does on Twitter. There were several delicious moments when Trump thundered about the need for accountability in government... said the man who is scheming in every possible way to shut down the investigation of his own potential criminal activity. 

Yes, some will say that we saw a new Trump last night. Some will say that he “pivoted.” All that proves is that you actually can fool some of the people all of the time. Indeed, polls indicate that the "permanently fooled" represent about 40% of the population. The rest of us are saddled with a functional relationship with reality.

Our bet is with Nicole Wallace. By Friday morning, Trump will be back on his Samsung Galaxy, and there will be a seismic explosion. Perhaps Rod Rosenstein will be fired, another Stormy Daniels will materialize, or maybe Donald Trump will brazenly insult the people of Canada. Who knows what it will be. We only know that it will happen.

Sure, Donald, the state of our union is actually pretty decent considering the carnage you've wrought in your first year in office. And if you leave out all the degrading and embarrassing things you've done -- the bigotry, misogyny, the assertions of "fake news," the venomous twitter rage, the insults to our allies and the pandering to tyrants, your efforts to undermine the FBI, and the fact that you are the subject of the biggest investigation into allegations of criminal behavior by the President since Watergate, then perhaps you can conclude that the state of the union is great.

Which is to say that this union is holding up despite you, not because of you.

All we saw last night was Donald Trump’s State of Delusion.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

BTRTN SaturData Review: Shutdowns, Showdowns and Flashpoints

Tom with the “SaturData Review” which updates key political indicators and highlights other pertinent info from the week.  We apologize for being a day late.

Who lost the shutdown?  Most pundits and politicos agree that Mitch McConnell, with Donald Trump relegated to the sidelines, outmaneuvered Chuck Schumer in the who-blinked-first battle, as a short-term government shutdown ended with yet another can kicked further on down the road (for three weeks this time, not a month). Certainly Schumer appeared to get very little for agreeing to re-open the government, apart from the ire of his own party’s liberal faction, which includes any number of presidential hopefuls looking to make a stand on DACA.

But pundits and politicos are often completely oblivious to actual data, which show no evidence of a Dem debacle.  The generic ballot continues to give the Dems a healthy +6 advantage, and most polls that directly ask who is to blame for the shutdown show the majority choosing Trump and/or the GOP handily over the Democrats (see “Political Stat of the Week,” below).  Trump himself lost another point in his approval rating this week, and has now squandered his post-tax law bump, and is back at 40%, the mode number of his presidency.

But it certainly could have been worse for the GOP; the reality is that the three-day shutdown was so short (and mostly over a weekend) that no real damage was caused to anyone, and the blame lines drawn reflected standard partisan fare.

There is a growing sense, however, that something is going to come to a head, some catalyst that could jolt the political dynamic.  The obvious candidate is the next legislative showdown over the spending bill and immigration on February 8, when the stakes are even higher.  The first positions staked out in this next round of battle are hardly encouraging for a swift resolution – the Trump Administration tossed the sprig of “a path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants on top of a full plate of hard-line immigration policies that one Democratic consultant labeled “a white supremacist wish list.”  And Schumer pulled back on Wall funding as a negotiating chip, and thus, with both actions, we are back to the proverbial square one.

But other ominous “somethings” are afoot as well, notably the Mueller investigation, which truly does seem to be heading toward some conclusion with the news that there are negotiations underway to determine the form of testimony from Trump.  But there is no real sense of when this might occur.

Less likely as near-term flashpoints are a North Korea blow-up or an economic correction, but they continue to loom over the Trump presidency.

Finally, there is the unexpected.  Presidents are often judged by history less by their policies and more by how they respond to crises – the ever-deepening commitment to a failing war, the bungled handling of a third-rate burglary or a hostage crisis, the overreaching response to a terrorist attack, the under-response to a devastating hurricane.  Contrast these relatively modern failures of Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Bush 43 with those of their predecessors (FDR, Ike, JFK) in how they dealt with the Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany, the stalemate in Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Trump has not faced one of these, and while he has arguably mishandled any number of dire circumstances – ratcheting up the warmongering rhetoric on North Korea and ignoring the desperation in Puerto Rico, for example – he has not managed his way through a full-blown crisis yet. And that is surely to come.  His performance in the shutdown battle was hardly reassuring – he was scattered in giving guidance on what he would be willing to sign; bombastic and distracting with his “shithole” comments; and ultimately relegated to the sidelines after his vaunted deal-making skills were exposed as hollow.  The clock ticks.

(A note on methodology: BTRTN calculates our weekly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.)

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Jan 20
Wk ending   Jan 27
Change vs. Last Wk
Change vs. Jan 2017
Trump Approval
48%
41%
40%
-1 pp
-8 pp
Trump Disapproval
44%
55%
57%
-2 pp
+13 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-14 pp
-17 pp
-3 pp
-21 pp






Generic Ballot Dem - Rep
D + 6
D + 6
D + 6
0 pp
0 pp






Trumpometer
0%
+19%
+14%
-5 pp
+14%
Unemployment Rate
4.7
4.1
4.1
0%
13%
Consumer Confidence
114
122
122
0%
7%
Price of Gas
2.44
2.67
2.68
0%
-10%
Dow-Jones
19,732
26,071
26,617
2%
35%
Most recent GDP
2.1
3.2
2.6
-19%
24%

While the stock market roared, the new Q4 GDP fell below analyst and Trump expectations, at 2.6%, sending the Trumpometer tumbling from +19 to +14.

(The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.
The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline, and the GDP.  The Trumpometer score of +14 means that, as of January 27, 2018, these indicators have on average improved by 14%.)

POLITICAL STAT OF THE WEEK
A number of polls all conclude the same thing: the GOP (inclusive of Trump) earned more of the blame for the government shutdown than the Democrats, by roughly a 50%/35% margin.

BLAME FOR GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

NBC
Quinn
MornCon
Trump
38%
31%
34%
GOP
18%
18%
15%
Dems
39%
32%
35%


Sunday, January 21, 2018

BTRTN: On the Women's March: You May Say I'm a Dreamer, But I'm Not the Only One

Tom reflects on the Women’s March, Year Two.

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the Trump Administration and, technically, the one day anniversary of the government shutdown.  I say, technically, because it feels like the government has been shut down for quite some time, a year, in fact, having shut down the possibilities of “yes” for the darkness of “no.” 

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing, crowd and outdoorNo health care for many, no immigration for some, no Paris Accords, no regulations to protect our environment, no help for Puerto Rico, no global leadership, no truth, no trust, no freedom of the press, no integrity and not a modicum of decorum. And so much more, in the dreary daily assault on our sensibilities, our bedrock institutions, and our belief in America’s place in the world.

So it was truly inspiring to spend a day with thousands of others in what was both a massive venting exercise as well as a call to action.  Some were worried that Women’s March 2.0 might suffer in comparison to the first edition a year ago.  But now we know exactly who we are fighting, we have crystallized why, and we are galvanized in our opposition.  The New York City march was its usual melting pot of races, origins and generations, with signs by the thousands covering the gamut of disgust and aspiration, and chants to match.  But it was a massive and unified force that took to the streets, and an amazing next chapter in march annals.

My overwhelming takeaway was that this massive crowd of marchers was a political machine putting itself through its paces in readiness for a war this November.  The shot has been fired across the bow in this past year, in national  elections from Virginia and New Jersey to Alabama; a number of Congressional special elections where Democrats challenged mightily in races won by the GOP in 2016 by 20+ points; in state legislature races in Virginia and Washington; and in  local races like the one for County Executive in my home of Westchester County, New York, in which the GOP incumbent, who won by +8 in 2013, was crushed by +17 by his Democratic challenger in 2017, the victim of a steamroller driven by members of our local Indivisible organization.

My favorite signs were thus focused:  “Grab ‘Em By The Midterms” was one.  “It’s 2018: Do You Know Which Congressional Race You Will Volunteer For?” was another.  These people were not just protesting.  They were organizing, taking names and numbers, demanding commitment and action, agitating for results. 

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and textOh sure, there were thousands of anti-Trump signs.  There were chants and songs about grievance.  There was the requisite mass-bird-flipping at the various Trump monstrosities as we passed them along our march route in New York City.  But it was much more than that.

You may say I’m a dreamer.  I choose to see the Trump Administration as a last gasp, an aberration, a one-term setback before the arc in that moral universe bends back yet again, and unrelentingly, toward justice.  But I’m not the only one.  Millions came out yesterday around the globe and we marched with one overriding goal:  winning elections.

I hope someday you’ll join us.  And get us out of this shithole for good.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

BTRTN SaturData Review: On S---holes and Shutdowns

Tom with the “SaturData Review” which updates key political indicators and highlights other pertinent info from the week. 

Our government is shut down, as Congress failed to agree last night on a spending bill, failed to extend CHIP, and failed to deal with DACA.  To the credit of 48 Democrats (inclusive of the two Independents), and GOP Senators Lindsay Graham and Rand Paul, the “one-month continuing resolution” gambit put forward by the GOP was denied.  There have been three prior games of “kick the can down the road” and the “no” votes decided it was time to come to some resolution now rather than manage the federal government one month at a time ad nauseum.  This means actually dealing with the toughest of issues.

Now we see who wins the blame game – the polls (and common sense) seem to indicate that the GOP will take the brunt of it, since they control the government.  Trump’s video from 2013, in which he holds Obama personally accountable (as the occupant of the Oval Office) for the last shutdown, has been replayed endlessly.  A CNN poll held that roughly half the electorate says the GOP and the President will be blamed, 30% the Democrats, 10% “all of them” (and 10% no answer).  Next week we will see the impacts on the approval ratings and the generic ballot.

As expected, Donald Trump’s “shithole” comments from a week ago Thursday (Jan 11) did little to his approval rating, which dropped merely a single point to 41%.  The outrage over the comments extended almost a full week, as it intermingled with the government shutdown/spending bill/DACA/CHIP phantasmagoria.  GOP Senators David Purdue and Tom Cotton charged Senator Dick Durbin with “grossly overstating” Trump’s comments in that fateful Oval Office meeting, flatly denying he had used the words “shithole” at all.  Apparently their denial hinged entirely on the fact that they heard Trump say “shit house” instead of “shithole,” as if this distinction actually meant something.  Absolutely incredible.  We have not heard parsing like this since Bill Clinton debated the meaning of the word “is.”

One thing we confirmed this week was that Donald Trump is neither the master of the art of the deal nor of the rudiments of the legislative process.  His views on immigration and his “guidance” zig-zagged like a world class slalom skier, frustrating GOP leadership more than anyone.  No one had (or has) any idea whether he truly wanted to help the dreamers, truly wanted a large wall, or truly understood one iota of what was in the spending package.  Trump’s “must haves” – a “must know” in any negotiation – ranged from hard to soft, clearly reflecting the person who last had his ear. 

(A note on methodology: BTRTN calculates our weekly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.)

The “generic ballot” narrowed a bit from last week, from a Dem lead of +8 to +6 points, but all bets are off with the shutdown.   The Democrats are risking this big lead by taking a stand on DACA, but the GOP is perhaps risking even more with the shutdown.

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Jan 13
Wk ending   Jan 20
Change vs. Last Wk
Change vs. Jan 2017
Trump Approval
48%
42%
41%
-1 pp
-7 pp
Trump Disapproval
44%
55%
55%
0 pp
+11 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-13 pp
-14 pp
-1 pp
-18 pp






Generic Ballot Dem - Rep
D + 6
D + 8
D + 6
-2 pp
+2 pp






Trumpometer
0%
+19%
+19%
0 pp
+19%
Unemployment Rate
4.7
4.1
4.1
0%
13%
Consumer Confidence
114
122
122
0%
7%
Price of Gas
2.44
2.64
2.67
-1%
-10%
Dow-Jones
19,732
25,369
26,071
3%
32%
Most recent GDP
2.1
3.2
3.2
0%
52%

The economy hummed along with the Dow roaring past the 26,000 barrier.  This positive impact on the Trumpometer was offset by rising gas prices, and the Obamameter remains at +19.

(The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The data are: the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline, and the GDP.  The +19 means these indicators are, on average, 19% higher than they were at the time of Trump's Inauguration.)

POLITICAL STAT OF THE WEEK

A new Gallup poll shows exactly how the world views Donald Trump.  The poll was among a cross-section of global citizens, 1,000 people from 130+ countries.  This “world poll” has been conducted annually since 2007. 

The percentage of world citizens who approved of the United States’ “leadership” under President Obama tacked between 41% and 48%, and reached the 48% level in 2016.  One year into the Trump Administration, it has dropped a full 18 percentage points, to 30%.  (In George W. Bush’s last year, it was 34%.) 

The United States fell below Germany (41%) and…wait for it…China (31%).  So much for America First.