Swing State Pres

Sunday, April 8, 2018

BTRTN: Swamp King Blusters and Dithers in Familiar Pattern

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

THE WEEK

In this week’s episode of the hit reality show, “Oval Office Madness,” the president screamed outlandish new policies, setting off titanic reactions; bobbed, weaved and mildly pushed back at Stormy and Vladimir; and shoved yet another swamp-dwelling Cabinet member out on a limb.

Sound familiar? 

The Trump presidency may be precedent shattering, but it is no longer unpredictable.  We are now getting used to the rhythm, and the question just may be – why are we not starting to get bored?  If not for the unbelievable stakes involved with the potential outcomes of Trump’s whims and sins, we might simply hold our noses and ignore it all.  But when nuclear war, seismic economic shocks and a potential impeachment are all in play, it’s hard to ignore the blowhard in the eye of these storms.  Governing the most powerful nation in the world is, unfortunately, deadly serious business.

On the blustering policy front, the Trump method of operation was on full display this week, following a well-worn path.

SCREAM FIRST.  Last week Trump launched a trade war with China by announcing the imposition of tariffs on $60 billion of Chinese imports.  These “announcements” are, at best, actually opening bids in a negotiation, at worst (and more likely) visceral off-the-cuff eruptions, when Trump needs new distractions and falls back on campaign trail promises to keep.  This week, China responded in kind, escalating the war, with each side playing “can you top this.” Trump promptly returned volley with an “announcement” of tariffs on a further $100 billion on China goods.  DISSEMBLE:  While this trade war was engaged, Trump proclaimed it could not be a “trade war” because “we already lost the trade war” years ago.  BACKTRACK:  As with the fully emasculated steel and aluminum tariffs of several weeks ago, which were swiftly rendered impotent with a series of carve-outs for our largest trade partners, Trump and his team are now attempting to engage China in negotiations, and the proposed tariffs may, in fact, never happen.

It’s going to take a lot more than this to bring China to its knees.  Trump has decided to pick a fight with a man who has just been declared, essentially, dictator for life, and with a country whose patience knows no bounds.  My favorite “long game” China story is when 1970’s-era Foreign Minister Chou En-Lai was asked his view of the French Revolution, which at that point was nearly 200 years in the past. “Too soon to tell” was his legendary reply.  The Chinese will not blink, especially to a highly-unpopular live-in-the-moment U.S. president who will likely be gone in less than three years.

Image result for zig zag chart linesFinancial markets cannot tell the difference between bluster and final policy, nor can buyers and sellers of the goods involved, and both the Dow and soybean prices (just to pick one product) gyrated wildly.  Markets typically like a calm, steady hand at the ­­tiller, and this is, well, not that.  The Dow’s daily change this past week was:  down 459, up 389, up 231, up 241 and finally, down 572.

The scream/dissemble/backtrack m.o. was also on display with Trump’s sudden “announcement” that he wanted an immediate withdrawal of troops from Syria.  This threw the high command into high alert and instantly became a test of General James Mattis’ vaunted survival skills, he being the Last General in Good Standing, seemingly possessed with a unique ability to stay out of the press, on Trump’s good side, and influential, a trifecta that has eluded virtually everyone else in Trumpworld.

Sure enough, the airwaves filled with hysteria, policymakers began the pushback process, Trump yielding and lesser alternatives emerging.  Where this will actually go remains a mystery, because sometimes Trump never backs downs (Paris Accords) and actually follows through, and other times he backs down entirely (DACA and gun control), and at other times he takes what he can get, no matter how stupid (see: Obamacare repeal and replace).  Some might call this “good negotiating skills” but this ain’t real estate.  In this, the real world, Trump’s words cause markets to move, prices to gyrate, soldiers to worry and an enormous amount of real pain. 

Trump also “announced” that he will order military troops to protect our southern border to combat illegal immigration, yet another example of the Trump method in play.  And while he was at it, he claimed that migrant women from Central America were “being raped at levels nobody has ever seen before,” yet another baseless claim.

And finally on the policy front, Trump continued his private war with Jeff Bezos by continually hinting that he is going to do something about Amazon’s tax status and spreading misinformation about Amazon’s impact on the USPS.  This is, of course, more of a personal vendetta since Bezos (not Amazon) owns the Washington Post, and has in fact revitalized the Post by investing in, of all things, investigative journalism.  The markets were not terribly fond of these loose-lipped threats either.  This was a bit of piling on with respect to tech stocks, which were already reeling with the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

All of this is giving Trump’s strongest story – the economic vitality on his watch – a beating.  His advisers want him to stick to the steady drumbeat of a message of prosperity, a rising stock market, tax cuts and deregulation.  Trump himself is undercutting that story with the tariff wars, the Amazon attack and the resultant market volatility.  The tax message boost, though, has clearly been underwhelming, having been abandoned as a talking point in the Pennsylvania 18th special election due to its lack of resonance.  The just-announced monthly jobs report – with only 103,000 jobs added – was also a negative.  And Trump has finally figured out that the spending bill he signed into law last month is now viewed as a huge Democratic win, with all sorts of domestic spending increases and virtually nothing for his Wall.  Trump’s trump card is clearly a weaker hand than it was just one month ago, and the tariff and Bezos wars just may be his search for replacements.

Meanwhile, Swampland was teeming, as the never-ending saga of the Worst-Administration-Since-Warren-Harding’s filled the news, the focus shifting to EPA head Scott Pruitt.  His appetite for political perks and largesse may be second only to, um, Tom Price, or perhaps Ben Carson or maybe Ryan Zinke.  Perhaps Trump feels like Percy Garris in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as in:  “Morons.  I’ve got morons on my team.”  But actually, Trump, the Washington Emolument himself, does not feel that way.  When asked about Pruitt, Trump issued a W-esque-heckuva-job-Brownie declaration about Pruitt: “I think he’s done a fantastic job.  I think he’s done an incredible job.”  And then he floated Pruitt as a potential replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Finally, when this went over rather poorly, Trump hurriedly dispatched Sarah Sanders to make clear that Pruitt was now in the hot seat.

Trump’s usual bluster pattern has, of course, two exceptions.  One is Vladimir Putin, for whom he has unrelenting praise and admiration; he has to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything to upset the man.  Trump finally caved in the last weeks by taking on Putin, expelling some spies Russian diplomats in the wake of the spy killing in the UK, and then imposing sanctions on some oligarchs – two “must do’s” that Trump could not avoid (and he managed to soften these blows by inviting Putin to the White House). 

The other exception is Stormy Daniels and the other wronged women who are suing him, for whom Trump has been uncharacteristically (to say the least) quiet. This week, though, he finally spoke, denying any knowledge of the fact that Michael Cohen paid $130,000 of his own money to keep Stormy quiet, putting Cohen in the rather implausible position of paying her that money for personal reasons (rather than the obvious reason, to protect Trump).  This, of course, begs the question, why on earth would he do that?

On the plus side for Trump, word emerged that Robert Mueller had notified Trump’s lawyers that he was not a “target” of the investigation.  But the bad news for Trump was that Mueller said he is indeed a “subject” of the investigation; his status could still change to “target” anytime; Mueller clearly is finding new veins to tap (the Russian oligarch angle this week); and the investigation is showing no sign of abating soon.

And yet Trump’s approval rating marches on at 42%, too high to support impeachment and conviction, but too low to re-elect.

THE NUMBERS

Trump’s approval rating was unchanged in the last week, holding at 42%.  The Dems continued to hold a commanding, and rising, +8 point lead on the generic ballot, enough to indicate a flip of the House in September of it held.   The Trumpometer held steady at +14, despite a volatile market and ever rising gas prices.  The +14 means that our five economic indicators – the Dow, the unemployment rate, the price of gas, Consumer Confidence and the GDP -- are, on average, up +14% since Trump’s Inaugural in January, 2017. (The full chart and methodology explanations are at the bottom of this article.) 

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Inaug.
Jan 2018 Year 1
Last 4 Weeks
Wk ending   Mar 17
Wk ending   Mar 24
Wk ending   Mar 31
Wk ending  Apr 6
Trump Approval
48%
41%
42%
42%
42%
42%
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-14 pp
-13 pp
-12 pp
-12 pp
-12 pp
Generic Ballot
D + 6
D + 6
D + 7
D + 6
D + 7
D + 8
Trumpometer
0%
+19%
+13%
+11%
+14%
+14%


POLITICAL STAT OF THE WEEK

Here is a map that shows soybean production in the U.S., side by side with the Trump-Clinton 2016 electoral map.  The point: there are surely many, many heartland Trump-supporting soybean farmers who are deeply unhappy over the China tariffs on soybeans. China is the top buyer of U.S. soybeans at $14 billion per annum.  Soybeans prices dropped 4% on the news of the tariffs, and Purdue economists estimate that a 30% tariff on soybeans could slice China’s soybean acquisition from the U.S. by a whopping 71%. 


Image result for soybean production in usa mapImage result for trump clinton 2016 electoral map



*******************************************************
Here is the complete SaturData chart with accompanying methodology explanations:

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Mar 31
Wk ending  April 6
Change vs. Last Wk
Change vs. Jan 2017
Trump Approval
48%
42%
42%
0 pp
-6 pp
Trump Disapproval
44%
54%
54%
0 pp
-10 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-12 pp
-12 pp
0 pp
-16 pp






Generic Ballot
D + 6
D + 7
D + 8
+1 pp
+2 pp






Trumpometer
0%
+14%
+14%
-2 pp
+14 pp
Unemployment Rate
4.7
4.1
4.1
0%
13%
Consumer Confidence
114
128
128
0%
12%
Price of Gas
2.44
2.72
2.82
-4%
-16%
Dow-Jones
19,732
24,103
23,933
-1%
21%
Most recent GDP
2.1
2.9
2.9
0%
38%

Methodology notes:

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.

For the generic ballot, we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

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.




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