Tuesday, July 2, 2019

BTRTN June 2019 Month in Review: Trump Should Beware the I's of June

Tom with the BTRTN June 2019 Month in Review.


Image result for june 2019 calendarpedia.comThe month of June was a blur in the madcap world of the Trump Administration, the news cycle compounded by the “for real” start of the Democratic presidential nomination battle.  But three major news items stood out – Iran, immigration and impeachment -- each personified by a singular image:  the downing of a U.S. drone by Iran; the heartrending and harrowing image of a man and his 2-year old daughter dead on the banks of the Rio Grande; there was also the stunning announcement that Robert Mueller will indeed testify public before Congress on July 17, giving voice to his report, and breathing oxygen into the calls for impeachment. Iran, immigration, impeachment...Trump should beware the I’s of June, indeed.

The origin of the self-inflicted Iran fiasco lays in Trump’s self-proclaimed prowess as a dealmaker, which required him, in his campaign, to promise to undo every “horrendous” deal that governed the underpinning of the past, present and future world order, from the Paris Accords, the KORUS deal with South Korea, NAFTA, and TTP to the Iran deal.  Plus, while never promising to completely undo the granddaddy of them all when it comes to world security, NATO, Trump has been lukewarm in honoring U.S. NATO commitments while complaining bitterly about our allies’ defense budgets.  For Trump, the financial price we may pay to ensure that, as James Mattis put it, “we avoid World War III” is never acceptable.  Every prior president has considered the financial price of a framework for peace to be a pittance, to the extent they considered it at all.

Thus the Iran deal had to go, despite the fact that we entered into that agreement with both allies (France, Germany, the UK and the rest of the European Union) and enemies (Russia and China) and that the Iranians were conforming to the deal thus far, having liquidated their existing uranium stockpiles and abided by other terms.  Trump’s problem with the deal was that it only covered the nuclear capability and Iran was guilty of other bad things, including aiding and abetting terrorists.  So the theory behind withdrawing from the deal was that the stick would be more effective than the carrot; cutting off Iranian oil revenues would heal the Iranians back to the negotiating table, not just to eliminate their nuclear capability for 15 years, but “forever,” and also get them to address their terrorist-supporting activities and other shenanigans.

So, Trump blows up the deal, and the Iranians, far from meekly returning to the negotiating table, actually amp up the aggression, attacking ships in the Straits of Hormuz and downing that drone.  So now what?  Everybody knows Trump will never go to war in the Middle East, so all the harrumphing about “obliteration” is clearly just noise (also, see: North Korea “fire and fury.”)  And, having alienated his allies, to whom does Trump turn for support or leverage?  OK, no war, no negotiations…how about a simple proportional military response?  Well, Trump and the military came within 10 minutes of launching a targeted attack before Trump realized that they never really agreed on the definition of “proportional” – a rather basic tenet to miss in the,um, decision process – so he pulls it.  This is the man we want with the keys to our nuclear arsenal?  And instead of a relatively stable, globally supported treaty providing some stability in the most volatile part of the world, we now have – what?  A lousy set of options.

The immigration crisis, of course, also owes itself to Trump campaign promises.  And without going through that whole history, Trump now faces his own Katrina (or worse), with Democrats crawling all over the filthy detention centers that house hundreds of children, separated from their parents, with the spectacle of his own officials arguing in court that they are not required to give these children soap, toothbrushes or blankets.  And the photo of the tragic end of the desperate journey has become the face of the problem, which Trump owns hook, line and sinker.

As for impeachment, the Democrats have been stymied every step of the way in their attempts to transform the Mueller Report into the Watergate hearings, due to the outright refusal of the White House to cooperate in any way.  The Democrats managed to get Hope Hicks to testify to the House Judiciary Committee, but behind closed doors, where the representatives heard Hicks refuse to answer a whopping 155 questions claiming something that does not actually exist in legal circles, called “absolute” immunity.  Without public witnesses, the whole inquiry runs out of steam, awaiting the courts to save congressional oversight and democracy as we know it.

But then came the bombshell that Mueller, under pressure of the threat of subpoena, had agreed to testify before both the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees in public (though he will also testify behind closed doors to the Intelligence Committee on matters related to national security).  Mueller may be a cryptic witness, but even if he simply repeats his story without elaboration (to the extent he could even get away with that under clever direct questioning), his words will be a powerful amplification (and clarification) of the impeachment case – which will be viewed by tens of millions on July 17.

As of now there are 84 members of the House who are calling for impeachment, 83 Democrats and Republican Justin Amish.  To the extent the Mueller testimony pushes that number over 100 and closer to half of the Democratic caucus (118 Democrats), the pressure on Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment hearings will become difficult to ignore.

The month also saw Trump continue on the tariff warpath, threatening Mexico with a 5% tariff on all goods if they did not “do more” to fight the migrant flow to the U.S. border.  Having created that crisis, Trump then called it off under the pretext of a #FakeDeal that consisted entirely of Mexican actions that had been agreed to long before.  The China tariff drama continued, with the on-again off-again talks apparently coming back to life at the G-20, the Chinese playing an expert game of rope-a-dope, playing out the clock until the Americans decide on the fate of this particular dope.

And then there were these headlines, which in any other administration would have dominated the news cycles for weeks if not directly led to impeachment hearings on their own.  But in Trump-land, they barely caused a ripple in this month of June.  To make this point, I’ve changed just one word in each of these storylines:

·        “Sixteenth Woman Comes Forward Accusing Obama of Sexual Assault”

·        “On a Whim, Obama Becomes First President to Walk on North Korean Soil”

·        “Both Men Laugh as Obama Mockingly Chides Putin to Not Meddle in U.S. Elections”

Perhaps most threatening for Trump, though, are rumblings in the economy, his re-election ace in the hole.  Trump surely desperately wants a foreign policy breakthrough  -- a China deal, a new Iran deal, a new NAFTA deal (the so-called USAMC deal), a North Korea denuclearization deal – to help buttress the case, but he will/should be running on the strength of the U.S. economy.   But with only 75,000 jobs created in May, and the inversion of the bond yield curve (an almost foolproof predictor of a coming recession), Trump is in his own race against the clock to get re-elected before the bottom drops out on the longest expansion in decades.  An untimely economic slowdown was disastrous for George H.W. Bush in 1992, and it would be even more so for Trump, who (unlike Bush) has positioned himself as the CEO of the U.S. economy.


For all the chaos of the Trump Administration, the one constant has been his approval rating.  He started his presidency in the high 40% range, roughly the same percentage as his share of the popular vote months before.  But very shortly thereafter – before the end of his first partial month, basically right after his Inaugural attendance lies and temper tantrum, his approval rating had dropped to the mid-40’s and sank more from there over 2017.  He hit a monthly low of 38% in August 2017 and ended that year at 39%. 

From there, each and every month has been in the 40-45% range; the last seven months have been stuck in the even narrower range of 41-43%.  We don’t need to remind you of the utterly explosive nature of the Trump presidency, a daily assault on presidential norms, American values and our place in the world.  And yet, each and every month, four out of ten Americans check the “I approve” box.

Such are our times.  Perhaps this single statistic, the approval rating, is most indicative of our divided nation, because nothing Trump does changes anyone’s mind at all.  This variance of a point or two month to month is in margin of error territory. 

And so, we report that Trump’s approval rating for the month of June, 2019, was unchanged at 43%.





What is particularly stunning about Trump’s approval rating is how low it is given the strength of the economy.  Presidents blessed with this kind of economic strength usually score in the 60’s.  Yes, there are ominous rumblings, but overall the average American is feeling pretty good about the economy – note the 122 index of “Consumer Confidence” in the chart below.

The “Trumpometer” was designed to allow an objective answer to the economically-driven question of the 1980 Reagan campign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  The Trumpometer now stands at +20, 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.)

The “Trumpometer” basically held in June versus May, up from +19 to +20.  The +20 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +20% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below). 

Oddly, the stock market rose dramatically this month, the Dow gaining nearly 2,000 points, and the price of gas dropped like a stone, but still consumer confidence dropped from 134 to 122.  All of those changes, coupled with no change in the unemployment rate or the GDP, resulting in offsetting impacts, and thus little overall change in the Trumpometer.  Trump can still claim a strong report card, but, nevertheless, more than half of America remains against him.

End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 5/31/2019
Trump 6/30/2019
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)
  Unemployment Rate
  Consumer Confidence
  Price of Gas
  Dow Jones

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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 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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