Sunday, August 4, 2019

BTRTN July 2019 Month in Review: Will the Democrats Take the Plunge?

Tom with the BTRTN July 2019 Month in Review.


Image result for july 2019 calendarpediaTrump’s approval rating held at 43% for the third straight month.  Our “Trumpometer” measure of economic strength under Trump since his Inaugural dropped from +20 last month to +12 on a tepid Q2 GDP growth rate.  Throughout the month Trump revealed his 2020 race-baiting campaign strategy in a series of ugly attacks, first on “The Squad,” four U.S. representatives who are women of color, then on U.S. representative Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore. The “impeachment now” movement gained momentum from the Mueller hearings and Trump’s racist attacks.  


The Mueller hearings and Donald Trump’s racist attacks on African-Americans were catalysts to the real issue of the month:  will the Democrats actually move to an impeachment inquiry?  As of this writing, more than half of the Democratic caucus is calling for impeachment (118 members, according to CNN, along with the one House Independent, former GOP representative Justin Amish).

From that question comes another:  is it a good idea or not?   Democrats are utterly divided, with, generally speaking, progressives who won their districts by wide margins in 2016 (that is, by 45 or more percentage points who thus have little risk of losing their seats) on the impeachment side.  The more moderate representatives, who survived closer elections, including first-termers who flipped GOP seats in 2018, are opposed, or silent.  There are exceptions to these general characterizations, to be sure, but it is still an accurate description of the dynamic.

The month began with Trump attacking “The Squad,” four first-year members of the House, all women of color:  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, all progressive Democrats.  This overtly racist tweet was the kick-off:

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly...and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

In subsequent days Trump repeated his “send them home” refrain (all four are U.S. citizens and three were born in the U.S.A.), until it was echoed by a crowd at a Trump rally in “lock her up” fashion.  Trump claimed to be unhappy with the serenade, but it lasted a full 13 seconds, and the mobs were simply replaying his own words.

The Mueller testimony was the highlight of the month, attracting 13 million viewers who saw Mueller affirm the main conclusions of his report and little else.  Mueller’s delivery was atrocious – as advertised, he did not expand on the report, but he also refused to turn the report into an understandable narrative form, and refused to even read from the report.  He seemed hesitant on many occasions, and did not convey a firm grasp of the material (“if it’s in the report, then I agree with it”).  The polls show that he did not change the minds of any Americans, nor did any Republican members of Congress join the impeachment brigade.

Then came the attack on Cummings, a 13-term African-American representative of Maryland’s 7th District (the Baltimore area), who serves as Chair of the House Oversight Committee.  In that role he incurred Trump’s ire by issuing subpoenas for text and emails from White House staff from non-official accounts, potentially problematic for any staffer, but perhaps in particular Jared and Ivanka.  Trump laced into Cummings and savaged the city of Baltimore with this and other incendiary tweets:  “Cumming {sic} District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess….it is considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No human being would want to live there.”

Trump has continued these Cummings assaults for days, to the absurd point of accusing Cummings himself of being a racist.  He also crowed that African-Americans were praising him for telling the truth, while Quinnipiac relied on a more fact-based approach, coming out with a poll showing that 80% of African-Americans considered Trump a racist. 

The growing calls for “impeachment now” are putting intense pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Before Mueller’s testimony, roughly 80 Democrats (plus Amish) were on board.  Another 10 or so jumped on after Mueller, and the rest up to the current 118 after the Cummings attacks. 

So far she has been content to continue to “litigate, legislate and investigate” but loathe to begin an impeachment inquiry.  Pelosi fears that the certain Senate acquittal would not only help Trump in 2020, but also jeopardize the House Democratic Majority, by risking losses in all those anti-impeachment Dem districts that flipped from red to blue in 2018.  Pelosi has been giving House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler enough space to move forward but has prevented the final step.  Whether she can continue that stance as the pro-impeachment numbers mount is the question of the day.

But there is yet another question:  does Donald Trump truly want impeachment?  It is hard to envision any U.S. president welcoming an impeachment inquiry, but as always, Trump may be the exception.  He certainly will relish the fight and clearly sees the political upside of such an epic battle, especially when he knows he will likely lose the impeachment battle in the House but win the war with a Senate acquittal (barring the some new treasonous revelation).

There is no doubt about Trump’s desires when it comes to the racial baiting:  it is the basis of his 2020 election strategy.  Old GOP pols would surely counsel Trump to run on his stewardship of the economy.  But he clearly plans to run on race, and the more generalized “fear of the other” that has long animated demagogues.  At this stage of his presidency, the notion of Trump expanding his base is long gone, so instead he must double down on the improbable strategy that landed him in the White House – turning out an energized base largely through fear-mongering, voter suppression and a little help from Moscow to eke out a win.  Hey, it worked in 2016.

It all sounds like madness, of course, but Trump himself laid bare the real point of these attacks in yet another tweet:  “If the Democrats are going to defend the Radical Left ‘Squad’ and King Elijah’s Baltimore Fail, it will be a long road to 2020.”  He wants the face of the Democratic Party not to be the nominee, but rather “The Squad” and Elijah Cummings.  You can bet that whomever the nominee is, you will soon see ads featuring pictures of that nominee in full embrace with these five representatives.

There were plenty of other consequential events in the month.  On the foreign policy front, Trump suffered more setbacks.  Iran announced it would soon breach the uranium enrichment levels established in the 2015 deal that Trump unilaterally withdrew from, with the strategy that ramping up sanctions would tank the Iranian economy and force them back to the negotiating table weakened and willing to go further in concessions.  That strategy not only shows no sign of working, but the Iranians continue to counter instead with hyper aggressive behavior, including capturing a British tanker, that inches us closer to a wholly unnecessary, Trump-inflicted military showdown.

North Korea resumed missile testing, which Trump, far from decrying, tolerated, while praising Kim Jong-un’s “beautiful vision” for his country.  The China trade talks continue to falter, and Trump countered another fruitless round of negotiations by announcing another market-rattling set of tariffs, on $300 billion of China goods, due to take effect on September 1.  And the British Ambassador utterly skewered Trump in a set of leaked diplomatic cables, outraging Trump with their confidential and blunt depictions of his administration’s madness.

It was more of a mixed bag on the domestic front.  Trump won one when the Supreme Court essentially allowed him to use Pentagon funds ($2.5 billion) to begin work on The Wall while lower courts continued to review the case.  This was a non-sensical verdict that Justice Breyer rather neatly exposed when he pointed out in his dissent that it would be hard for the new Wall to be ripped out if the lower court ruled against Trump – why not hold the dollars aside until they rule?  

Trump lost a couple of others though – he was forced to finally give up the ghost on his U.S. Census citizenship question, and had to pull an absurd attempt to name the spectacularly under-qualified lapdog John Ratcliffe as Director of National Intelligence, replacing Dan Coats, no one’s lapdog.  That noise you heard was GOP Senator Richard Burr, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spitting out the indigestible Ratcliffe candidacy, which also featured a greatly enhanced Ratcliffe resume full of lies about his record as a prosecutor.

Trump also signed off on a Budget agreement with the Dems that was largely viewed as a Pelosi win (and which the GOP could not pass without significant Democratic help).  The only reason Trump got away with it was that his friends on Fox and in the Freedom Caucus were too busy doing high fives over the Mueller testimony to devote air time and attention to the spend-a-thon contained in the Budget.  And thus the national deficit and debt continue to soar.

One remembers a Trump campaign promise that he would not only eliminate the deficit but the entire debt in an 8-year year – yes, eliminate the entire $20 trillion of debt.  Ah, good old GOP orthodoxy – tough on the Russians, tough on the debt, tough, tough, tough.  Where has that GOP gone?  (The debt is now just under $22 trillion.)

Not that the Dems are so sure of themselves either these days.  The month ended with the second round of Democratic debates among 20 of the 25 Democratic contenders.  They proceeded to rip each other to shreds, most particularly Joe Biden, and not just his Senate years, but his VP years under Obama.  Essentially, the Democrats were attacking the one beacon they have had this century, the ultra-popular Barack Obama himself!  And for all of that -- five full hours of wrenching, personal battles involving ideologies, policies, generational divides and more -- a Politico/Morning Consult poll indicated that not a single candidate had moved up or down one iota.

In watching those debates, old hands might recall two memorable lines from the days of yore, the first by Will Rogers, who famously said, “I am not a member of any organized political party – I’m a Democrat.”  And the second which did not originate with Ronald Reagan, but he appropriated it as his own, the so-called Eleventh Commandment:  “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”  The Democrats seem intent on living down to Rogers’s statement while failing to live up to Reagan’s.


We simply report, as we have with mind-numbing regularity, that Trump’s approval rating remained at 43%, now for the third straight month, falling within the 40-45% range for the nineteenth straight month.  His weekly rating rose to 45% at one point in the month, but fell to 42% by month’s end, after the Mueller hearings and the Cummings’s attack.





The GDP growth rate slowed this month from 3.1% in Q1 to 2.1% in Q2, dropping the Trumpometer from 20 to 13 despite gains in consumer confidence and the Dow.  The +13 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +13% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below). 

The “Trumpometer” was designed to allow an objective answer to the economically-driven question of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  The Trumpometer now stands at +13, 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.)

End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 6/30/2019
Trump 7/31/2019
% 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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