Swing State Pres

Thursday, March 5, 2020

BTRTN: Trump Rides High…Until He Doesn’t

Tom with the BTRTN February 2020 Month in Review.

THE LEAD

There were four major stories in February, a month in which Trump played third fiddle in the news for a change, to the Democratic presidential campaign nominating process as it moved into the primary and caucus season, and to the coronavirus epidemic as it spread from China around the world, including to the U.S., with no end in sight.

·        At the beginning of the month of February – can it possibly have been just a month ago? – the Senate acquitted Trump on two articles of impeachment.  The vote was along party lines with the lone exception of a vote to convict by GOP Senator Mitt Romney on the first article.

february 2020 printable calendar·        Trump proceeded on a highly visible “revenge”   tour, removing various witnesses in the House impeachment proceedings from their positions     and meddling in Department of Justice affairs in cases involving his cronies.  Far from “learning a lesson,” as Susan Collins predicted, Trump   instead was emboldened by the acquittal and sought to rid his government of perceived anti-Trumpers.

·        The coronavirus exploded in Wuhan, China, and, as of this writing, has now spread to more than 97,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths in 86 countries or territories around the world, including the U.S.  The virus also shook world markets, including the Dow Jones which dropped 3,500 points in a single week.

·        And the month culminated with the South Carolina primary, in which Joe Biden reasserted himself in the campaign.  His 30-point win set up a full Super Tuesday Biden comeback and precipitated the departure of a slew of candidates.  This likely leaves a two-person battle through the primary season (and possible beyond) between Biden, the centrist, establishment choice, and the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders.


THE MONTH

It was literally only a few weeks ago when the talk of the town was the “Trump Winning Streak,” a rare confluence of good news for the White House, including:

·        The GOP voting against calling witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial
·        The Democrats completely blowing the execution of the Iowa caucuses
·        Trump’s State of the Union victory lap
·        His formal acquittal in the Senate trial
·        A strong jobs report
·        A Gallup poll showing him at a 49% approval rating (his high)
·        And the New Hampshire primary, which, together with the Iowa results, appeared to all but bury Trump’s most feared opponent:  Joe Biden. 

All of this happened within an 11 day period, and Trump seemed on top of the world.

But from there, things went a tad sideways, and then straight down.  One of the most memorable and silliest statements came from Susan Collins in the immediate aftermath of the acquittal:  “I believe the president has learned from this case” and that he would be “much more conscious in the future.”  Within days of that laughably and quintessentially blind statement, it became even clearer that this was not to be.  Instead, Trump’s takeaway was, in a nutshell, that he could now do anything he damn well pleased, without fear of congressional reprisal. 

Far from showing one iota of contrition, Trump instead went on a “revenge” tour like no other.  In short order, Alexander Vindman – and his twin brother – were being escorted out of the White House, Gordon Sondland was relieved from his position as EU Ambassador, Mitt Romney was banned from the CPAC, and other perceived “ooponents” were in various ways punished.  It was revealed that Trumpsters had been creating an “enemies list” of deep-staters within the government who must be rooted out, and that Trump Cabinet members were directed to work to that end.

Trump then shifted gears and began inserting himself directly into the Roger Stone case, demanding that the sentencing guidelines established by his own Justice Department be reduced (or the case dismissed entirely).  Attorney General William Barr promptly obeyed, calling for a lesser sentence, typically the role of the defense attorney.  Barr claimed that he was acting independently, which would be bad enough even if it did not sound so ludicrous; his direction was, in effect, an epic takedown of his own prosecutors.  And then Trump began moaning about the DOJ’s treatment of Mike Flynn. 

At that point Barr decided Trump’s DOJ interference was a bridge too far, and publicly told Trump that the tweets were making his (Barr’s) job “impossible.”  For good measure, Barr also dropped the prosecution of Trump villain Andrew McCabe, the ex-FBI acting director and Comey ally, in the same time frame.  Barr knew what he had to do to quell a riot within the DOJ and maintain his own credibility so he could carry out Trump’s business, so he played his few cards.  (Trump ignored him and continued the Stone/Flynn defense tirade.)

Even with the revenge tour and the ensuing Barr flap, it remained one of the best stretches of the Trump presidency, and Democratic angst reach new heights.  Trump was riding high, the Dems were in disarray, unable to run the Iowa caucus properly, much less settle on a unifying candidate.  But if anyone had any illusions that Trump would ride this particular wave straight to reelection, they were mistaken.  The Trump reality show is a daily, if not an hourly series; the opportunities for self-destruction are always just around the corner, and there would be many such corners in the months before the election.

And what came next was no garden variety issue.  Rather, it came in the form of a global crisis brought on by the identification and ramp-up of COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus.  The sequence was breathtaking:  on December 31, 2019 the government in Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people, announced it was investigating an outbreak of an unidentified form of pneumonia.   On January 11 came the first death in China; on January 20 the first cases outside of China were announced; and on January 30 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a “global health emergency” and travel restrictions were put in place.  The next day the Trump Administration suspended entry into the U.S. of anyone who had been in China in the prior 14 days.

Trump’s personal reaction to the virus throughout February was to play it down, even as the cases mounted and the disease appeared in the U.S. --  some carried by travelers from China before the travel ban, and some via so-called “community spread,” that is, cases that, more ominously, had no known link to travel at all. 

Trump himself is, of course, no student of history, and/or his team of yes-men did not engage him properly in his response.  After Katrina in 2005, if not before, any executive politician, be they a mayor or governor or a president, knew that getting ahead of threatening acts of nature was the first rule of political survival.  The game plan, as executed by Obama during the SARS crisis, includes swift, decisive, proactive steps to deal with the crisis real time, balanced with calm leadership to avoid panic.  One key action is to appoint a “czar” to head the response, usually an expert in the field, heading a team of other experts.  Much public communication is necessary, balancing the transmission of common sense guidance and instruction while avoiding hysteria.

Trump did none of these things as the epidemic spread rapidly in February.  It is no exaggeration to say that the triggering action for him was not the growing global count of cases of and death from the virus.  Rather, it was the sudden deterioration of the stock market in late February that finally shook him into action, as he equates the Dow’s performance as a barometer of his presidency.  

It is fair to characterize his first coronavirus press conference as a disaster.  Far from being a reassuring executive presence, Trump was erratic and ill-prepared, giving a rambling, uninformed, overly-optimistic, overly-detailed, disjointed talk that did not have the benefit of any particular structure.  He then announced he had named Mike Pence, of all people, as his coronavirus “czar,” since Pence was an “expert.”  This expertise was apparently borne of Pence’s mishandling of an HIV epidemic in Indiana when he was governor, plus a solitary case of MERS in the state.  (And here is one measure of the lateness of the U.S. government response:  my own college, among many other institutions, set up a coordinated college-wide coronavirus task force in early January.)

Pence took over the briefings, which was an improvement, but the CDC, the victim of enormous budget cuts in the Trump years, clearly stumbled in the early phases of the case.  As the month ended, the market was still dropping in thunderous steps to a full-blown correction, and the Fed was contemplating stimulative actions such as a rate cut (which it ultimately did in March).  And the virus zoomed past 80,000 cases worldwide, approaching 3,000 deaths.

Meanwhile, the Democrats were showing signs of restoring order.  The New Hampshire primary, the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary were all well run and the Iowa fiasco was not replicated.  And Biden’s epic win in the February 29 South Carolina primary set the stage for a remarkable four-day stretch at the beginning of March, which suddenly and dramatically narrowed the Democratic field and brought order to the chaos.  Biden’s remarkable comeback not only in South Carolina but subsequently in winning 10 Super Tuesday primaries, drove, in order, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Mike Bloomberg to the exit ramp, leaving only Biden, now the front-runner, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (along with the puzzling persistent non-entity Tulsi Gabbard).  

And rumors of Warren’s imminent departure were mounting.  Yes, there was again now the very real possibility that Trump would have to deal with Biden after all.  So much for that winning streak.


MONTHLY MADNESS

One could argue that most of what comes out of the Trump’s White House, his mouth and his Twitter feed is a gusher of ongoing madness, but we reserve this space for the most confounding.  And this month we note Trump’s nomination of Representative John Ratcliffe to become director of national intelligence, a position that has been without permanent head since Dan Coates resigned last summer.

What is particularly maddening about this nomination is that Trump nominated Ratcliffe to replace Coates once before, just seven months ago, and Ratcliffe was forced to withdraw before he went through the Senate confirmation process.  Ratcliffe, a member of both the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, had caught Trump’s eye as a staunch and highly visible Trump defender during the Mueller hearings and the impeachment inquiry.  But his nomination the first go-round was doomed for two reasons:  GOP Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr took a dim view of Ratcliffe’s lack of intelligence experience, and then, on top of that, it was determined that Ratcliffe had lied on his website in bragging about winning terrorism convictions when he was a Federal prosecutor.

So, for no apparent good reason, he is back, still underqualified and still tainted by the lie.  Take Two, and over to you, Senator Burr.

That was madness enough, but there is more.

The interim DNI director who replaced Coates was Joe Maguire.  He was fired because he had the temerity to do his job, that is, authorize a briefing to Congress on continuing Russian efforts to influence the 2020 election.  Trump was incensed the briefing happened at all, and in particular because Trump uber-nemesis Adam Schiff was included in it (properly, of course, since he is the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee).  And so, abruptly, and not long before his own term was up, Maguire was gone.

He was replaced as interim director by a man named Richard Grenell, who is currently (and will remain) the Ambassador to Germany.  Grenell also has zero intelligence experience, not to mention a presumably time-consuming day job.  He is a Trump devotee, though, and this is really all that matters.


TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

Even with the Senate impeachment acquittal and the so-called (and short-lived) Trump “winning streak,” Trump’s approval rating inched up only a point to 44% on average for the month (in our view, the Gallup reading was an outlier).  This is the 26th consecutive month that his approval rating was in the 40-45% range.  Keep in mind that there were no measures after the stock market tumble in the wake of the coronavirus, so we will keep an eye on this in March.

TRUMP MONTHLY APPROVAL RATING

2017
2018
2019
2020

Jan
Jun
Jan
Jun
Jan
Jun
Jan
Feb
Approve
45
40
41
42
42
43
43
44
Disappr.
44
55
55
53
54
54
54
54
Net
1
-15
-13
-10
-12
-12
-10
-11


GENERIC BALLOT

The impeachment trial has come and gone, and the slight dip in the Democrats lead in the generic ballot appears is gone as well.  The Dems are back up to a +7 lead, where it was last fall.  If this +7 differential was still the margin on Election Day, our BTRTN model indicates the Dems could pick up roughly 10 or more seats to extend their current dominant position even further.

GENERIC BALLOT

2019
2020
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Jan
Feb
Democrats
45
46
47
47
47
47
48
45
47
Republicans
39
38
38
39
39
39
41
41
40
Net Margin
7
8
9
8
7
7
8
4
7


TRUMPOMETER

The Trumpometer declined from January to February, +16 to +12.  The +12 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +12% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below). 

The decrease in the Trumpometer was driven entirely by the massive drop in the Dow Jones due to global uncertainly around the coronavirus.  The other measures were relatively unchanged, although to be fair the consumer confidence measure was taken before the late-month market drop.   

The “Trumpometer” was designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  The Trumpometer now stands at +16, which means that Donald Trump can definitively claim that the answer to that question is “yes.”  (Whether he deserves credit for that score is another matter.)


Clinton
Bush
Obama
Trump
TRUMPOMETER
End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 1/31/2020
Trump 2/29/2020
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)
Trumpometer
25
-53
0
16
12
12%







  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
3.5
3.6
23%
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
132
131
15%
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.60
2.56
-5%
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
28,256
25,409
29%
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
2.1
2.1
0%

If you would like to be on the Born To Run The Numbers email list notifying you of each new post, please write us at borntorunthenumbers@gmail.com.

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. 




6 comments:

  1. You know, while I enjoy your guys' commentary, for all the hating you guys do on Nate Silver, his models have been doing a MUCH better job at predicting these primaries than what you guys have been coming up with. For a group that prides themselves on political predictions, you should re-consider your methodology.

    Also, this is the 3rd or 4th post of yours that looks like it could use another edit or two. Not as many egregious errors in the writing, but the math on your Trump approval table is off.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nate did a better job because he published his last effort on 4 PM on Super Tuesday whereas we posted the night before. Thanks for the input, the methodology is fine it's the timing (even with that, he was off by a little under 5 points per candidate across all the races, and we were slightly above 5 points -- that would have gone away if we'd used the Tuesday polls). For the record, our record over the last decade is on par with Nate. As for the typos, yes indeed, thanks. But that is not an error in the math on the Trump Approval chart, it is rounding. (I assume you are talking about the net number.) Thanks for taking the time to respond, Connor!

    ReplyDelete
  3. re: Richard Grenell ... who was a press flack at the UN under a sequence of Ambassadors and acting Ambassadors (including Bolton). A Fox News contributor. A Newsmax writer. A "consultant" for the Hungarian (proto-fascist) government. A demonstrative Trump evangelist. And now, with the nomination of Rep. Ratliff(an obviously unqualified person who couldn't be confirmed 8 months ago when he was nominated for the same position), he is likely the "acting" Director of National Intelligence for the remainder of this year.

    Granted, he may stay busy mostly as Ambassador in Germany, insulting the government there. Why? Two minions from Devon Nunes' coterie have been put into place:
    * Kashyap Patel, as Deputy DNI (with an apparent mandate to “clean house,” according to CBS); and

    *"Michael Ellis, ... to be senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council (NSC). [The position is] the focal point for coordination between the White House and the [Director of National Intelligence (DNI)] on a range of issues."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great background, John. Bunch of crazies.

      Delete
  4. Nate predicted Clinton would win with 92% probability. He's not to be trusted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have to get a better handle on probabilities. Certainty simply does not exist. As I recall Nate gave it about a 30% chance that Trump could win. That was roughly the same odds, that same year, as the Cavaliers and Cubs had of winning the NBA Championship and World Series, respectively, after being down 3 games to 2 in the finals. In both cases, they overcame the odds by winning the last two games. It happens. Nothing is definitive. The only poll that is definitive is the election itself. Remember Comey's Sunday night announcement that the latest batch of Clinton emails was clean? That got people thinking about the emails again just before they had to decide who to vote for. How do you account for that?

      Delete

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