Tuesday, September 4, 2018

BTRTN August 2018 Month in Review: Seven Days in Mayhem


Republican Tom Cole summarized a month of bad news, embarrassing revelations, and unforced errors with considerable understatement:“It has been a really bad August.”

THE MONTH

The historical significance of the Trump administration may well prove to the existential battle between the rule of law and a president who does not respect it. If so, August is sure to be recorded as a month in which both sides brandished their weapons as the United States of America careened toward what seems to be an inevitable showdown between unbridled executive power and the efficacy of checks and balances to contain it.

Tuesday, August 21, was a day of infamy for the Trump White House, as two critically important figures in Donald Trump’s orbit were brought to their knees by government prosecutors. Within hours in courtrooms hundreds of miles apart, a jury slammed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort with eight guilty verdicts on a variety of financial crimes, and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight crimes, most notably a campaign finance violation that fingered Donald Trump as a co-conspirator.

The double-barreled blast appeared to push a panicked President ever closer to actions calculated to cripple or end the Mueller investigation. Trump elevated his attacks on his own Attorney General to a new high, signaling that the question of firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions was now more a question of “when” than “if.” Perhaps most telling: even Sessions’ strongest allies in the Senate – notably Lindsey Graham – seemed resigned to the fact that the Attorney General’s days were numbered.

Trump tweeted the dismissal of long-standing White House Counsel Don McGahn, whose fealty to Trump was questioned when reports surfaced that McGahn had spent thirty hours providing testimony to the Mueller team. Both Sessions and McGahn have thrown their bodies in front of the Mueller investigation, refusing to allow Trump to act on his impulse to shut down the probe that threatens not only his presidency, but raises the possibility of criminal guilt and jail time for Trump and members of his family. Both Sessions and McGahn represented sturdy firewalls protecting Mueller, and Trump will be sure to seek replacements who will bend to his will.

In sum: Just as the Department of Justice showed its power in securing criminal verdicts against two of Trump’s closest associates, Trump asserted his power by reminding all that both the Department of Justice and White House Counsel report to him. Indeed, in one of the most sinister and worrisome proclamations in a shocking month, Donald Trump actually told an interviewer that he could “take over the (Mueller) investigation” if he wanted to.

As we turn past Labor Day and headlong into the mid-term elections, it appears increasingly possible that Donald Trump will try to shut down the Mueller investigation. The timing of such an audacious move is a major issue. It remains unlikely that he would try to act on this before the mid-terms, as that would risk further damaging his party’s prospects in the election. Yet he has to be conscious of the fact that the longer he waits, the more time he is giving Mueller to develop evidence, explore plea deals, secure indictments, and put together his final report.

Yet there was still more. Within the narrow time frame of major headlines surrounding Manafort, Cohen, Sessions, and McGahn came the sad news that Senator John McCain had elected to end treatment for brain cancer. Over the final days in August, the President of the United States took the occasion of the widely-revered Senator's passing to fully demonstrate that he is a small and bitter man indeed. As glowing tributes to the genuine military hero and former Republican Presidential candidate cascaded across the airwaves, Trump grumpily folded his arms for 48 hours and refused to say a word about McCain until shamed into doing so. 

In short, the month of August culminated with Seven Days in Mayhem

Perhaps the silver lining in all of the above for Donald Trump was it distracted the news media from the bombshell that landed earlier in August. Yes, it was just earlier this very month Omarosa Manigault Newman’s White House tell-all, “Unhinged” hit the bookstands. Omarosa was besting Trump at his own game with a steady, sequenced drip-drip-drip of actual White House tapes. These tapes exposed the Trump White House as stinking from the top down, demonstrating the Trumpian style, exposing John Kelly and Lara Trump in their clumsy attempts to muzzle the reality television star by employing two favored Trump tools: threats and money. Omarosa contended that in her stint at the White House she observed degradation in the President’s mental faculties since she had worked with him on The Apprentice. The biggest bombshell: Omarosa conveyed certainty that an audio tape exists in which Donald Trump can be heard using the “n” word while on the set of The Apprentice. 

Trump’s inevitable counter-attack managed to pack the full fury of his racism and misogyny into byte-sized tweets. Omarosa was “vicious and not smart,” a “low-life,” and “a dog.” Aside from assuring his base that his gender bias and racial bigotry were hitting on all pistons, this astounding language seemed only to assure Omarosa another complete cycle of first-block cable news interviews, which she used to great effect.

While we are on the topics of “cable news” and “unhinged,” no summary of this crazy month is complete without a shout-out to Rudy Giuliani, who may have inadvertently revealed Trump’s new campaign slogan for 2020 when he announced on Meet the Press that “truth isn’t true.” We’ve been waiting for Rudy to announce that he forgot to insert the word “not,” thereby creating a double-negative, which, uh, would make his statement not a lie.

No, we’re still not done with August yet. Reach way back, folks – before you headed to the beach, back when the Red Sox were ten games up, back before you were stunned to learn about the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania – to August 5. That’s the day that Donald Trump tweeted that his “wonderful son” had a meeting in Trump Tower “to get information on an opponent,” thereby becoming the first president in history to effectively turn state’s evidence that his son was guilty of violating Federal campaign law. This very public admission that prior White House explanations of the Trump Tower meeting were outright deceits did not seem calculated to help either Trump Junior or Senior. 

On August 23, 2018, The New York Times reported that Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma was urging fellow Republicans who faced close elections to separate themselves from the White House. “So my advice to any candidate would be: keep your powder dry and don’t rush to attack or defend anybody because you just don’t know enough to have a reaction that you can still defend three months from now.” 

However, the true measure of Cole’s break from the White House alternative fact factory was his candid assessment of the current month, a summary that we here at BTRTN could not have phrase any more succinctly. The Republican acknowledged: “It has been a really bad August.”

TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

In a month with very little good news and a great deal of bad news, Trump's approval rating nevertheless remained stable.

TRUMP MONTHLY APPROVAL RATING

2017
2018

Jan
Jul
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Approve
48
40
42
43
42
42
45
43
43
43
Disapprove
46
56
55
54
54
54
52
53
53
53
Net
2
-16
-13
-11
-13
-12
-7
-9
-10
-10

GENERIC BALLOT

The generic ballot for the month showed Democrats with a solid +5 point edge, and for the latter half of the month that figure climbed up to +7. According to our BTRTN proprietary model, that would translate to a +40 seat pickup for the Dems if the election were held today, more than enough to take control of the House. We now calculate the odds of a Democratic House takeover at 82%.

GENERIC BALLOT:  MONTHLY FOR LAST 12 MONTHS

2017
2018
S
O
N
D
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
D
40
39
40
41
40
40
41
43
41
43
44
44
G
34
32
32
32
34
34
34
36
37
36
37
39
Dif
6
7
8
8
6
6
7
7
4
7
7
5

TRUMPOMETER

The “Trumpometer” was up marginally in August, with a slight drop in the unemployment rate and gas prices and a modest rise in the stock market and consumer confidence.  The +29 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +29% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration.

TRUMPOMETER
End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 7/31/2018
Trump 8/31/2018
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)

25
-53
0
26
29
29%
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
4.0
3.9
17%
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
127
133
17%
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.92
2.82
-16%
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
25,463
25,965
32%
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
4.1
4.1
95%


Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly 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, on an average percentage change basis... 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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