Tom with the BTRTN December 2022 Month in Review.
December, 2022 was the post-midterm interregnum when Washington crams in unfinished business and evolves into a New Order with the creation of the 118th Congress. The final aftershocks of the 2022 midterms resounded in December with the AP call of California’s 13th House district, the last unresolved House election, after 23 days of ballot counting; Ralph Warnock’s convincing win over Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate run-off; and the exposing of George Santos, the serial liar who flipped a crucial House swing district in Nassau County in New York’s Long Island on the basis of presenting voters with an utterly false life. We haven’t seen a liar of the magnitude of George Santos since, well, the days of Donald Trump.
public fraud is so clear and so sweeping – he lied about his employment, his education, his
religion, his real estate portfolio, the alleged fate of several alleged
employees of his alleged business in 9/11, a fraud case in Brazil, even his mother’s death, and more including potential campaign finance fraud --
that booting him before he takes the oath (which he will do today) seems obvious. Indeed, how will he possibly utter these words? “I, George
Santos (or Anthony Devolder, a name he sometimes uses), do solemnly swear that
I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all
enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to
the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or
purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of
the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” Solemnly swear? True faith?
Without purpose of evasion? So help me god, indeed.
The twin evils of
Trumpism and polarization have long buried any shred of dignity that existed
within the party of Lincoln, and the party of Hugh Scott, Barry Goldwater and
John Rhodes. They were the distinguished,
solemn establishment trio who went to the White House on August 7, 1974 to tell
President Richard Nixon that he had lost the support of Congress. (Nixon resigned two days later.) But the 21st century version of
the Grand Old Party could never bring itself to do the same to Donald Trump,
despite two impeachment opportunities, and now they cannot even eject Santos, a
virtually unknown fabulist. The simple
truth is that wannabee-Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every single vote he can
get, and, with his silence on Santos, he crawls even deeper into the abyss, dragging
this once proud party with him.
The Santos saga (or, if
you prefer, the Devolder drama), was probably welcomed by Donald Trump, since
it deflected attention from what has been quite possibly the worst start of a
presidential campaign in history (or at least since Scott Walker, the erstwhile
Wisconsin Wonder who managed a 70-day “first-to-worst” campaign in 2015). December saw Trump being castigated one last
time, with the defeat of Walker, for his midterm idiot-backing madness; ridiculed
for launching a set of Trump digital trading cards (on sale for $99 each!); had
his Trump Organization found guilty of tax fraud; lost his six-year battle to
keep his taxes out of the public eye; and, oh yes, was referred for criminal
prosecution by the January 6 committee on four different charges related to The
Big Lie. All this came after his ill-timed
post-midterm-debacle launch announcement in November, when Trump blowback was
white hot, and his high-profile
dinner with two of the leading anti-Semites of our age, Nick Fuentes and Ye
(nee Kanye West). Perhaps the best part
of Trump’s December, apart from the Santos deflection, was that another month
went by without an indictment. That
streak just might end in January.
Trump remains the only
announced candidate for president, and now we await the decisions of President
Joe Biden and Trump’s main potential GOP challenger, Florida Governor Ron
DeSantis. Biden has said he will make
his intentions clear in early 2023 (likely no sooner than mid-February), but
any thought that Biden might hang it up ended when it was revealed that Jill
Biden supported a reelection run. Biden
himself had a fine month, with inflation now steadily receding, economists
raising the odds that the U.S. might avoid a recession altogether, and Biden,
Schumer and Pelosi conjuring more legislative magic with bi-partisan passage of
a $1.7 omnibus spending bill. (This got
through because the GOP Senate was terrified of what might happen if they had
to rely on the GOP-controlled House to pass one in the new session.) With all that and the continued glow from the
better-than-expected midterms (and the Warnock exclamation point), Biden saw a
small but material increase in his approval rating, from 41% to 43%. In these times, that qualifies as
Which brings us to
DeSantis and his decision. It may
surprise readers to consider that he might not run, because there is one
terrifically good reason why he should – it appears to be his “time.” He is fresh
off that stupendous 20-point reelection win in Florida, and he will certainly
recall the lesson of Chris Christie, who demurred in 2012 when he was cooking
on gas, only to see the flame burn out by 2016.
But there are at least two pretty darn good reasons why DeSantis might take a pass anyway, and they are
named Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Assuming Biden runs (which
as noted is almost a foregone conclusion), he will run, of course, as the
incumbent, a huge advantage, and a pretty well-positioned one at that. Biden has already built a solid track record
of accomplishment both domestically and overseas; he may be riding a rising
economic tide by 2024; and he’ll still have that decent, likable, centrist, high-integrity
Middle American profile that got him elected in the first place. That adds up to a pretty formidable position,
assuming, of course, he handles the next two years well and maintains his
reasonably vigorous level of health (neither a given). From DeSantis’s perspective, running against
an incumbent is a risk, and it is notable that the only ones who have been
successful at it since FDR’s time are Jimmy Carter, who was running against an
unelected president, and Ronald Reagan and Joe Biden, both of whom, at their
ages, did not have time to wait. Such is
not the case with Ron DeSantis, who is a mere 44 years old, only four years
older than Pete Buttigieg.
The other factor to
consider also poses grave challenges to DeSantis -- the Trump factor. While Trump is clearly wounded, that could
very well be when he is most dangerous.
He still has a firm grip on at least 30% of the GOP, probably higher
among those who will participate in the primaries, which will make him a
formidable opponent. Trump will
doubtless denigrate DeSantis mercilessly during his campaign, contuning his propensity of making a mockery
of Ronald Reagan’s famous Eleventh Commandment (“thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican”). DeSantis will
become Trump’s sworn enemy the day he throws his hat in the ring. If DeSantis loses the nomination to Trump, he
is political toast, and if he defeats him for the nomination, he will somehow have to win over the
Trump faithful to have any chance of beating Biden. He certainly cannot count on Trump’s support
in the general election; indeed, he may face Trump’s full wrath and perhaps
even an independent run.
No matter what happens in
2024 in a Trump-Biden repeat, the field will be clear in 2028. No matter who wins, they will serve a second
term and then be done. If Biden wins,
the Democrats will have served for eight years, and the country will be ready
for a change. Only George H.W. Bush
defied that metronome-like swing when he won in 1988 after eight years of
Republican rule under Reagan. If Trump
wins, he will be eternally grateful to DeSantis for supporting him, and
probably anoint him in 2028. (If Trump
loses, he could conceivably run again in 2028, but that seems highly unlikely.)
DeSantis’s biggest risk
in this wait-for-2028 scenario is that Trump may tap him for Vice President. DeSantis would hardly want to lash himself,
Pence-like, to Trump by accepting, but obviously, if he declined, it would
elevate a competitor for 2028. DeSantis
may offer Trump a deal – I’ll back out in 2024 if you don’t offer me the VP
slot, and take no sides in 2028.
DeSantis may also be
waiting to see what Biden does. If Biden
decides not to run, that shifts the calculus, in that one obstacle – running against
an incumbent – will be removed.
All in all, it is no
laydown that DeSantis is running. He is
nothing if not astute in reading political terrain, and there is little doubt
he is considering all of these factors as we head into decision season. The odds on choice is that he will make a go
of it, because, apart from political astuteness, DeSantis appears to have a
healthy supply of hubris, and thus the lure of the moment will win out, with
the sense that he can handle the obstacles as they arise.
Next up: today’s vote on McCarthy’s speakership, with
GOP dysfunction fully on display. Stay tuned.
As noted, Biden’s approval rating edged up to 43% in December, in
the aftermath of the unexpected showing by the Democrats in the midterms. His issue ratings were unchanged, except for
some slight upward movement in “direction of the country.” While the monthly movement was modest, + 2
points, and the absolute level now is still low at 29%, it is noteworthy that
the measure has climbed +10 points since July.
The “Bidenometer,” our BTRTN aggregate record of economic
performance, made another significant jump upwards from +41 to +47, as gas
prices continued to fall and consumer confidence improved (more on the
The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that 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?” We reset the Bidenometer at this
Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs
better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what
he inherited from the Trump Administration.
The Bidenometer measure is comprised of five indicative data
points: the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of
gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP. The
measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from
the inaugural to the present time.
The +47 for December, 2022 means that, on average, the five
measures are 47% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the
chart below). With a Bidenometer
of +47, the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its
condition when Trump left office. Unemployment is much
lower, consumer confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is
stronger. On the flip side, gas prices
have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary
Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under Clinton the measure ended at +55. It declined from +55 to +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery. Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it. Now we have seen it move upward from 0 to +47 under Biden.
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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
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 Bidenometer aggregates a set of
economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of
aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021,
on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether
the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office. The
indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average,
the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.