Saturday, April 1, 2017

BTRTN March 2017 Month in Review: A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Month for Trump

The Trump Administration, off to a stumbling start in February, fell flat on its face in March.

There may be a more disastrous month in a Presidency on record, from the perspective of self-inflicted wounds.  Certainly August, 1974 heads the list with Nixon’s resignation.  George W. Bush had a few doozies with no WMD’s (April, 2005), Katrina and Harriet Miers (September/October 2005) and the economic meltdown (October 2009).  Jimmy Carter had the doomed rescue attempt in the hostage crisis (April, 1980).  Every presidency runs into trouble, even some right out the gate, including Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

But none of those approach the debacle that Donald Trump finds himself in, with any number of very bad storylines dominating the all-too-real news. 

·         Top of the list was the failed attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, which, since 2010, has been the number one campaign promise of virtually every national GOP candidate.  It went by the boards in 18 stunningly fast days.  Trump himself claimed many times during the campaign that killing Obamacare would be a “first day” action and an absolute top priority for his administration.  But Paul Ryan devised a strategy to ram some shoddy legislation through and Trump endorsed the bill and put the whole “art of the deal” treatment into it.  Trump uttered the second most memorable line thus far in his presidency (after Kellyann Conway’s “alternative facts” gem), when he declared “nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”  Nobody except everybody else, that is. 

The bill that emerged was hated by virtually everyone.  Unfortunately for Trump, everyone included the Freedom Caucus of the GOP on the far right, and the more moderate Tuesday Group (~ 50 “moderate” Republicans), and Trump and Ryan were unable to bring them around and close the deal.  This is a stunner that could cripple Trump’s entire legislative agenda – puncturing Trump’s deal making aura and winning track record, and exposing Ryan’s un-Pelosi like weakness in corralling a disparate caucus.  That the GOP could not manage to kill Obamacare despite having total control of its fate is truly extraordinary.

·         But that was not all, by a long shot.  That ominous smoke you smell is the increasing evidence that the Trump Campaign colluded with Mother Russia in trying to bring down Hillary Clinton and usher in a Moscow-friendly Trump Administration.  The single most significant news of the month was the confirmation by James Comey that the FBI is indeed conducting an investigation, and will surely follow it wherever it takes them.  You don’t want the FBI fully vested in bringing you down, and Trump’s non-stop savaging of the intelligence community has provided them with plenty of incentive.  This investigation has been going on since July, 2016, with no end in sight.  A perfectly plausible, if utterly shocking, tale is emerging, an image of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Julian Assange and various Putin cohorts meeting in some dacha, working out the timetable for WikiLeaks releases of John Podesta’s emails, with Jared Kushner giving the silent nod to the whole enterprise from Trump Tower after sotto voice discussions with the Don.  Late word came down that Michael Flynn wants to testify with immunity, and that usually means he has a pretty powerful story to tell – and perhaps a President to implicate.  (The Senate committee rejected the deal – too early in the process.)

·         And there was the insane accusation, via a series of Saturday morning twitter rants, that that “bad (or sick) guy” Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. This was followed by outright denials by FBI Director Comey, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (the two who would have known) and statements by Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr, House Intelligence Chair Devon Nunes (a Trump crony), Paul Ryan and a host of other GOP leaders who confirmed that no evidence existed to support the claim.  Trump piled on by dragging the Brits into the mess, saying that their GCHQ intelligence agency had conducted the wiretapping at Obama’s request, a charge made by a FOX legal analyst that was later disavowed by Fox, and one that predictably outraged the Brits, our strongest allies.  Trump then repeated the accusation in a public meeting with a horrified Angela Merkel.  Trump has yet to walk back the charge, and, by the timetable of his birther claims, we can expect him to do so around 2022.

·         We’re not done yet.  Lost in the miasma, was the swift quashing of Travel Ban 2 before it was even in force.  Why the Trump Administration thought that cleaning up the green cards, returning residents’ restrictions, and eliminating Iraq would be enough to satisfy the constitutional questions that arose from Travel Ban 1 is beyond me.   The central issue was whether this executive order was a thinly-disguised ban on Muslims, and Exhibit A on intent was Trump’s own campaign promises (captured on film many times) to do just that.  The courts thought it was.  The new ban did nothing to address that issue, and was further undercut by Department of Homeland Security reports that demonstrated a) that geography-based restrictions were likely to be unsuccessful, and b) that the track record shows that terrorists on American soil from foreign countries tend to be radicalized after they have been here for a while, and thus there is no way to screen them as they enter.

There is so much more, but the central theme is that this Administration has demonstrated zero ability to effect the change that the GOP has desperately desired for eight long years -- and Donald Trump explicitly promised that he was the “only one” who could deliver it.  The policies have been badly conceived and the strategies to implement them badly flawed, and the combination has been lethal to their prospects.  And the general prediction that Trump’s staff was essentially a bunch of ideology-driven rookies has been borne out.

We have put together this scoreboard to monitor Trump’s “progress” on implementing his major campaign promises.  (We put “progress” in quotes because this is from the perspective of his supporters.)  We are, of course, only 70+ days in, but the start has been disastrous.  The only area Trump has made real “progress” is on environmental issues, with his recent Executive Order that revoked much of Obama’s own unilateral efforts to create his legacy in this area.  The stroke of a pen giveth, and another stroke taketh away; such is the nature of Executive authority without legislative backing.  Trump also withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty, which had not yet even been approved by Congress.  His opening notes of “renegotiating NAFTA” are very modest adjustments, hardly worthy of the scathing criticism he has levied on the pact.

"Progress " Rating
The Wall
No progress
Muslim Ban
Failure thus far
Repeal/Replace Obamacare
Cut Taxes
Just underway
Defeat ISIS
Mattis Plan modest
Renegotiate Iran Nuclear Deal
No progress
Bring Manufacturing Jobs Back
No progress
Renegotiate NAFTA/Withdraw TPP
Withdrew from TPP
Rollback Obama Environment EO's
Revoked 6 Obama E.O.'s

Coming up in April? 

·         The Gorsuch hearings will continue, and we will see whether the Dems stand united and force Mitch McConnell to dump the 60-vote filibuster rule, something that, contrary to what you might think, h really, really does not want to do.  And, as I wondered about “repeal and replace,” whether he has the votes.  I find it hard to believe John McCain wants to further diminish the hallowed rules of the Senate; are there others?

·         It’s debt ceiling time again!  And if you thought the AHCA was exposing the factions and fissures of the GOP, wait until we get to the government shutdown threat likely to accompanying the debt ceiling negotiations.  Look for the Freedom Caucus to insist on defunding Planned Parenthood as the price of a “yes” vote and for Ryan to turn to the Dems to get it over the top without one.

·         And finally, the GOP will begin their tax reform program, a daunting piece of legislation that was last accomplished 31 years ago, though not without attempts by far more experienced politicians in far less contentious times.  Steve Mnuchin, welcome to your crash course on How Washington Works.  He claims he will have a bill passed by August.  I don’t think so.

·         And who knows where the Russia story goes, what Trump tweets next, or what surprise North Korea, ISIS, a domestic terrorist, Mother Nature or whom or whatever injects into the swirl to test the Trumpsters.

Approval Rating

Trump’s approval rating has be steadily declining since his Inauguration, from a “net 0” (meaning the approval rating matched the disapproval rating) to a net -10 for the last half of March.  The latter figure is just beginning to reflect whatever impact that the Comey bombshell and the AHCA debacle may inflict (the daily decline continues). 


Mar 1-15
Mar 16-31

If you look at Gallup’s historical figures, which cover the last 70 years or so (since Truman), you can get some perspective on these figures.  They are the lowest for a new president over that entire era.  If you compare Trump to modern era presidents – Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama – he started at the lowest approval level, by far, and has fallen the most.  On average, Clinton, Bush and Obama started at around the 60% level and dropped by nearly 10% in their first 70 days.  Trump started at 45% -- way below the others – and has fallen 16% -- the biggest decline in the bunch.  This is a terrible place to be this early, and with no legislative wins on the horizon to stem the tide.

First-term President
Inaug. Day
Feb 28
Mar 31
Chng Vs Inaug.
Trump 2017
Obama 2009
Bush 2001
Clinton 1993


The Trumpometer is a straightforward way to compare how the economy is performing under Trump in comparison to the day he inherited its stewardship – January 20, 2017 (and to his immediate predecessors).  BTRTN developed it to provide a simple gauge to assess the question, “are we better off now (economically) than when this President took office?”  The five measures that are the basis of the Trumpometer are noted in the chart below.

The Trumpometer has barely moved since Inauguration Day, of course, and Trump cannot be held accountable for its movements as yet (although he certainly has taken credit for the stock market surge and perhaps rightfully so, given the promise of “pro-business” reforms in the tax and regulatory environment.)   In time, of course, he will be held accountable for how these measures perform.

The Trumpometer thus stands at “+5” (versus the re-set to “0” on his first day in office) with the modest upward movement since Obama left office driven by the rise in the stock market and in consumer confidence.  Not too much more to be said about this for now.

"Clinton-ometer"        1/20/2001
"Bush-      ometer"        1/20/2009
"Obameter"      1/20/2017
"Trump-ometer" 2/28/2017
"Trump-ometer" 3/31/2017

  Unemployment Rate
  Consumer Confidence
  Price of Gas
  Dow Jones

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