Swing State Pres

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

BTRTN May 2019 Month in Review: Stuck Inside of No Deal with Those Endless Blues Again

Tom with the BTRTN May 2019 Month in Review.

THE MONTH

Is there absolutely anything associated with Trump’s Washington that is not completely stuck, or in reverse?  When you consider the two major themes of the month – life in post-Mueller Washington and Trump’s foreign policy initiatives – there is no discernible sign of constructive movement, anywhere.  Domestically, one sure sign of stagnation is when the fastest moving entity is the court system, and that is where we are right now.  The likelihood of significant legislation (e.g., infrastructure, drug prices) moving through Congress is, at this point, laughable.  And the global scene is even more disturbing, with backsliding in every area of Trump focus:  China, North Korea, Iran and Israel.  Everything Trump touches overseas is destabilizing, and the potential consequences of an angry Trump are dire.  (We are into June now, and Mexico is on the plate as well.)

Image result for may 2019 calendarWith respect to Mueller, last month we identified six separate threads spawned by the release of the report.  Consider the “progress” on each:

·        The quest for the unredacted report:  The full report remains unreleased, as Attorney General William Barr refused o comply with a congressional subpoena. 

·        Barr’s behavior.  Barr refused to testify to the House Judiciary committee after failing to strike a deal that would allow him to testify.  Barr now faces a contempt vote by the full House (as does former White House Counsel Don McGahn) and there will be no more testimony from him.  After the contempt vote, the House could go to court to seek enforcement of its subpoenas.

·        Democratic investigations.  These have collectively ground to a halt in the face of the Trump White House’s refusal to cooperate.  Apart from the unredacted Mueller Report drama, the main action has been in the courts, where the Trump administration lost two cases in federal court.  The first allowed Deutsche Bank and Capital One to provide Trump business financial records to the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees, and the other allowing a Trump accounting firm to hand over records to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.  But Trump’s lawyers are likely to appeal both cases and the investigations will continue to move along at an agonizingly slow pace.

·        Trump’s War on Congress.  Essentially, the Trump Administration has declared that the concept of “congressional oversight” is no longer operative, and so the courts are not simply ruling on the fate of investigations, but will be resolving a full-blown constitutional crisis – which the Supreme Court will, at some point, decide.

·        The 14 on-going investigations.  These continue, out of the public eye.

·        The impeachment question.  This one shows some movement, complete with a scorecard.  As of the month’s end, there were 59 members of the House (including one Republican) who are calling for impeachment proceedings.  Nancy Pelosi’s go-slow strategy is not threatened at this level, but if that number continues to grow and reaches, say, 100 reps, getting close to half of the Democratic caucus, things could get interesting. 

The big news of the month was that Robert Mueller actually stood before a microphone to discuss his own report.  What went largely unnoticed is that Mueller more or less read sections of his own report.  Since so few citizens or, apparently, government officials have actually read the report, his comments made news.  He was certainly definitive, in both the report and in his spoken words, but those conclusions were maddeningly bathed in the fog of legalese that doomed a reading by the public and left the high-level interpretation to a gleeful and savvy William Barr.

This is what Mueller said out loud:  “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime…. {the report} explains that under longstanding {Justice} department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.  Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited….The department’s written opinion …says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

This is a translation for the common citizen:  “Trump might have committed the crime of obstruction.  I can’t clear him of it.  But by Department of Justice policy, I’m not allowed to indict him.  The only course of action is for Congress to consider impeachment.  And I’ve laid out the evidence if they choose to take that step.”

This is, of course, a long way from saying that there was “No Collusion, No Obstruction,” the bumper sticker the Trump is touting based on Barr’s misleading summary.  If you actually read the document, the evidence supporting an obstruction charge is laid out in detail, and seems overwhelming.

But Mueller not only said nothing new, he indicated that was his last word on the subject – no questions, no congressional testimony, nothing.  Another dead end in Washington, and with so much at stake, such a dense report to absorb, so much to clarify, with so little understanding, it is remarkable that Robert Mueller believes that his report is sufficient.  Another “no deal” in a dead end town.

The Trump foreign policy agenda reached a new low this month, regressing to the point of failure, to wit: 

·        The vaunted China trade negotiations failed, and the administration is now on the verge of imposing a 25% tariff on Chinese goods.  Why Trump felt that a dictator for life, used to playing the long game, might buckle to a man who will likely be out of office in less than two years is beyond me.  No deal.

·        North Korea resumed missile testing, and is farther away from the negotiating table than the minimum range of an ICBM.  No deal.

·        The long-awaited Jared-Kushner-Saves-the-World plan to bring peace to the Middle East took yet another blow when Bibi Netanyahu failed to put together a coalition government in Israel.  No deal.

·        When Trump hired John Bolton to be his National Security Advisor, what did he expect?  He surely knew that it would not increase his odds of getting the Nobel Peace Prize.  Bolton is agitating for a war with Iran now, jumping all over some flimsy photographic evidence with the zeal of Dick Cheney touting Curveball, the low level Iraqi engineer who was basically the single source of the “Saddam Hussein has WMD” charge.  Trump himself has no interest in such a war, and found himself in public conflict with his own team.  No, uh, policy.

What is going right for Trump?  Just one thing:  the economy.  The latest GDP figures confirmed 3.1% growth in the first quarter, and the economy added 263,000 jobs.  Why Trump does not just shut up about everything else and talk up the economy is beyond me.

TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

Trump might not be doing much, but the base still loves it.  Trump’s approval rating inched up +1 point in the month of May to 43%, his highest since September (but basically still flat-lined in the same range it has occupied since his second month in office, the high-30’s to the low-40’s).  Winning reelection will be remarkably difficult for Trump with 54% of the country against him, but he has shown little interest in broadening his appeal.

TRUMP MONTHLY APPROVAL RATING

2017
2018
2019

Jan
Jun
Dec
Jan
Jun
Dec
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Approve
45
40
39
41
42
43
42
41
42
42
43
Disapprove
44
55
56
55
53
53
54
55
54
54
54
Net
1
-15
-17
-13
-10
-10
-12
-14
-11
-12
-11

TRUMPOMETER

The “Trumpometer” basically held in May versus April, dropping a single point from +20 to +19.  The unemployment rate dropped to 3.6%, consumer confidence rose and gas prices fell.  These positives were offset by a huge drop in the Dow caused by Trump’s self-inflicted trade war with China.

The +19 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +19% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below). 

TRUMPOMETER
End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 4/30/2019
Trump 5/31/2019
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)
Trumpometer
25
-53
0
20
19
19%
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
3.8
3.6
23%
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
129
134
18%
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.97
2.91
-19%
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
26,593
24,815
26%
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
3.2
3.1
48%


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 (which is not polled in this post-election time period), 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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