Trump’s job approval shows the Democrats’ dilemma in 2018

Summary: After one year in office, after 12 months of continuous bombardment by his political foes, Trump’s job approval numbers have held steady for six months (they dropped after the honeymoon). This is key to understanding the current situation in US politics — and what lies ahead in the potentially decisive 2018 and 2020 elections.

Gallup poll of Trump’s job approval.

Gallup poll of Trump job approval

Six months of saturation bombing of Trump by all the resources of the Left (broadly defined). Psychologists and psychiatrists declare him to be crazy (despite the Ethics Codes of major medical organizations prohibiting remote diagnosis). Academics of every kind condemn him and predict doom if he remains in office. Journalists openly work to undermine his administration. The folks in Hollywood have run 24-7 hysterics. Democrats and Leftists of every flavor circulate daily harangues about his present and future deeds (no story too outrageous, no rumor too weak to circulate, no prediction to fantastic).

Their best ally is Trump himself, whose rants on Twitter provide new proof every week that 28% of America’s 227 million eligible voters made a big mistake by voting for Trump, that 29% made a big mistake by not getting a better Democratic candidate than Clinton, and 42% were derelict in their duties as Americans by not voting.

The result of this commitment of money, work, and political capital: not much, as seen in the above Gallup graph (538’s graph shows much the same picture). Lots of resources and scarce time burned for nothing. No signs here of a looming Democratic Party win in the 2018 elections.

David Brooks

First, David Brooks describes today’s US politics.

David Brooks nails it in his NYT column “The Decline of Anti-Trumpism.” He makes the three key points that define this political moment. First, Trump is a clown — but not the madman or moron the “resistance” describe him as.

“{P}eople who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by. …

“My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

Second, Trump the clown distracts the Left from the work of the competent officials he appointed who are quietly rolling back the New Deal — as the Right has planned to do for decades. Now is their magic moment. They have dominance at all levels of government, with the Left in hysterics over Trump, transgender rights, and #meToo. They are using it effectively. Red emphasis added below.

“{T}he White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade.

“It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation. Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss. …

I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country.”

Third, the Left is mirroring the Right’s contempt for truth (of course, since they are both Americans).

“I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us. …

“This isn’t just a struggle over a president. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?

“Or, are we going to restore the distinction between excellence and mediocrity, truth and a lie? Are we going to insist on the difference between a genuine expert and an ill-informed blowhard? Are we going to restore the distinction between those institutions like the Congressional Budget Office that operate by professional standards and speak with legitimate authority, and the propaganda mills that don’t?”

Long-time readers of the FM website know that this is my top recommendation for the reform of America: we have to reconnect with reality, become less gullible, and more interested in truth (however harsh) than pleasing stories. See my posts in section four of Ways to Reform America.

Key to bright future

Second, look to the future.

The Democrats and Left have fired off all their ammo at Trump. This puts them in an almost escape proof box.

They have accused Trump of enjoying “golden showers”, having a perverted relationship with Ivanka, insanity, being a Russian agent (or even “Putin’s puppet“), and every kind of political corruption. Most of these have been stated as fact by the Left; many are described in apocalyptic terms. While a second year of RussiaGate investigations might find a “smoking gun”, the momentum appears to be turning against it.

Slowly most are being disproved (not all, especially the commonplace Presidential financial corruption). What happens if 2020 arrives and the US is still running fine? Their own claims will discredit them. Worse for the Democrats, the economy appears to be accelerating — and that is usually the most significant factor affecting elections (“It’s the economy, stupid.”). Voters might consider these things more important than the more serious long-term effects of the GOP’s rollback of the New Deal (e.g., more pollution, more inequality, etc.).

But what if the Democrats succeeded in forcing Trump out? Then we get President Pence, an experienced (six-term congressman, one term governor of Indiana}, relatively young (58), competent, and hard-working far-right politician (see his Wikipedia entry). Originator of the “Pence Rule”, which millions of men might adopt in response to the #MeToo hysteria: “In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side.” {Source: NYT.}

The Democrats can barely cope with Clown Trump. Pence will destroy them. If Pence has a strong economy in 2020, he probably will lead the GOP to a decisive win.

The Democrats are having fun with their successful social revolutions and Trump resistance, but the long-term price might be even further loss of political influence. Seldom has a political party had such incompetent leaders.

For More Information.

Important: To see why the Democrats have been unable to capitalize on the zany antics of Trump, see Matt Taibbi’s typically brilliant analysis.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the Trump years in America, about the Democratic Party, about ways to reform America’s politics, and especially these…

  1. Polarization and hot rhetoric conceal two similar political parties. Will we ever notice?
  2. Our fears are unwarranted. America is in fact well-governed,
  3. The good news: America’s politics are neither polarized nor dysfunctional. That’s also the bad news.
  4. Left and Right use race as a way to divide America.
  5. Political rhetoric in the age of Trump.
  6. The Left embraces racism. The result could be ugly.
  7. Watch the Left and Right move against America.
  8. Watch the economy, the decisive factor in the 2018 election.

Read these books to better understand our dilemma

Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank. A brilliant analysis of the wrong road taken.

The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics by Jefferson Cowie. We did it once, forming a progressive-populist alliance against the 1%. We can do it again.

"Listen, Liberal" by Thomas Frank
Available at Amazon.
The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics
Available at Amazon.

28 thoughts on “Trump’s job approval shows the Democrats’ dilemma in 2018

  1. Larry, I agree with your analysis, and add only that most critics seem to concentrate on style and not on substance. It’s hard to do the latter because the MSM never give any of it — it is style, style and style they focus on.

    No one seems to recall what he campaigned on and what he has done in his first year, let alone on the improvement in the US economy. The situation is just as bad here in Australia. My wife asked me what is she supposed to do? I replied that you have to read and watch something other than ort television stations and our main newspapers, which get all their material from their American counterparts.

    1. Don,

      (1) “it is style, style and style they focus on.”

      We are the people that elected wrestler Jesse Ventura and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as governors, and clown Trump as President. This indicates the onset of senescence in the US political system. It’s the equivalent of grandmother no longer remembering your name.

      (2) “let alone on the improvement in the US economy”

      It’s not clear that the economy has improved (e.g., job growth has not accelerated). But even if it has, the President is not our Master Magician. The effect of small changes in fiscal and regulatory policy are small — and take years to appear in the stats. Even typical changes monetary policy, over which the President has little influence, takes 6-12 months to have effect.

      That Americans blame or reward the President primarily for the economy is similar to stone-age tribesman holding the Chief responsible for the rains. If they come, it shows the Gods favor him — and he is rewarded with all good things. If the rains don’t come, the Gods must want a sacrifice… We have computers and atomic bombs, but still show the same thinking.

    2. Agree in general about the remark about Chief and the rains, but many of the things the President have done have pointed towards his interest in more jobs, a rising economy, removal of regulations that prevent this, and so on. All these actions have an effect on decisions to invest — or so my undergraduate study of Economics once told me!

  2. Larry, The accelerating exodus of senior Republicans from Congress seems to indicate that many feel their time is past. Certainly the establishment of the Democratic Party had done nothing to create a cohesive message as to why the country should embrace their vision so they have no basis for certainty that there will be a wave election.

    The most important thing going on in the political universe would appear to be the explosion of women who have indicated they plan to run. Should that trend continue and take hold, we could see something as profound as the 2010 Tea Party sweep, but not a traditional waive from one party’s orthodoxy to the other’s and not necessarily an ideological shift. If we’re going to see the grassroots revival you hope for, my sense is that it will come from the women.

    1. John,

      (1) “The accelerating exodus of senior Republicans from Congress seems to indicate that many feel their time is past.”

      Do you have some quotes to support that theory? Perhaps they are retiring at their moment of victory. Note that they are leaving when confident that their seats are in “good” hands, as even the NYT is forced to admit: “G.O.P. House Retirements Are Surging, but the Number in Competitive Races Isn’t as Striking.

      (2) “we could see something as profound as the 2010 Tea Party sweep”

      Why do elected officials with vaginas not testacles show a “profound” shift? Can you point to studies showing a difference in voting patterns between men and women in the same party?

      (3) “If we’re going to see the grassroots revival you hope for, my sense is that it will come from the women.”

      The adoption of outright — ven proud — sexism (and racism) by the Left, as seen in such statements, is a major change in the US political landscape.

    2. We’ll better understand whether the trend to more women in government changes the nature of the debate once it has happened. My instinct says that we are in the early stages of a generational shift as well as a shift in sexual mix in national politics. I won’t be surprised if a bunch of younger Gen-X and older Millennial aspirants don’t come forward to “jump the shark” past the later Boomers and older Gen-X pols. Many of them I know certainly feel that they have been failed by us Boomers.

    3. Interesting interpretation of my remark, which was merely an observation of the world as I see it moving, not a value judgement about the relative merits of the sexes. I do think there tend to be differences between how men and women react to and address the world, but don’t presume one is necessarily better or more successful. If that’s sexist so be it. I understand that some modern academic thinking pillories anyone who makes such assumptions, more so with regard to race, but certainly with regard to sex as well.

    1. Gute,

      “Give it a rest.”

      So we should just go to sleep for the next three years? Ignore the 2018 and 2020 elections? Do not try to learn from how Trump came to office and what’s happened since?

      Keep your advice for yourself. Not everybody is happy to be a peon.

  3. Trump is not a clown. He only plays one on twitter. He plays the clown to distract his opponents from important stuff, to make his opponents waste time (and look silly) overreacting to tweets, to make his opponents underestimate him, and to end run the main stream media and get his side out to his followers. If he were really a clown, he would not have been able to stage a hostile takeover of the GOP, win the election, and set up a quietly effective administration.

    1. Mike,

      (1) “Trump is not a clown. He only plays one on twitter”

      That’s possible, although it is not the simplest explanation. What is your basis for htat conclusion?

      (2) “He plays the clown to distract his opponents from important stuff”

      That reads like rationalization. Much like Obama’s supporters claims that he was playing 12-dimensional chess — as the Democratic Party burned during his eight years in office.

      (3) “If he were really a clown, he would not have been able to stage a hostile takeover of the GOP”

      That is not correct. Decayed political systems often have weird leaders assume controls. It’s almost a defining characteristic of organizational senescence. Hence the increasing frequency of this in the US. Jess Ventura, gov of Minnesota in 1999. arnold schwarzenegger, gov of California in 2003 (a much larger State), then Trump in 2016 (the biggest).

      (4) “and set up a quietly effective administration.”

      That’s the God Emperor-President view, that the new Leader personally makes the machines move and the rains fall. In fact the Party machinery does this almost automatically. President Wilson had a stroke in October 1919. His wife ran the nation — with no prior experience — until March 1921. American ran just fine. Reagan had early-stage Alzheimer’s in 1984 (it is quite obvious if you watch the tapes of the debates). We elected him anyway, and American ran just fine for the next four years.

  4. “The Democrats are having fun with their successful social revolutions and Trump resistance, but the long-term price might be even further loss of political influence. Seldom has a political party had such incompetent leaders.”

    Hard to dispute. This is all taking on a Coyote and Road Runner quality to it. I keep expecting Trump to tweet “Beep Beep”

    On a more serious note, most Administrations don’t hit their stride for about a year. In that, Trump’s White House is about par for the course these days. I honestly think people make too much of the early problems. The Mueller Freak Show has fed the delusion that somehow there’s going to be a do over for 2016, but it’s become clear to anyone with eyes to see that the people who interfered in the election weren’t in the Kremlin, they were in the Hoover building. The Democrats are pushing a DACA amnesty that will further alienate the working class voters they needed to win in 2016. If they actually shut down the government in a tantrum over amnesty…I don’t really think they will, but if do, I’m breaking out the popcorn because that’s going to be fun to watch.

    Trump is beatable in 2020. He just may not be beatable by this bunch.

    1. The Man,

      “most Administrations don’t hit their stride for about a year.”

      Evidence? Most administrations try to follow FDR’s practice of launching fast — to make the most of the “first 100 days” honeymoon. They have almost 3 months to set up before inauguration — and most make good use of the time. Trump is an exception to this.

      “Trump is beatable in 2020.”

      My guess is that he will not run. He would be 74 years old. That’s old. Campaigning for president is stressful, as would be governing at ages 74-78.

      Also, I doubt he is having fun. He like to win, and he has won. My guess is that he will retire.

  5. “Most administrations try to follow FDR’s practice of launching fast — to make the most of the “first 100 days” honeymoon. They have almost 3 months to set up before inauguration — and most make good use of the time. Trump is an exception to this.”

    Most Administrations don’t have the FBI organizing a coup, so I’m willing to grade on the curve.

    “My guess is that he will not run. He would be 74 years old. That’s old. Campaigning for president is stressful, as would be governing at ages 74-78.”

    They said Reagan would be a one termer, too. I have no idea what the man will do, but he might decide it’s fun to confound the people who hate him. We’ll see what we see. Personally, I thought Trump, Hill, and Bernie were all too old to be running in 2016, and I would have said the same thing about Joe Biden. (Weren’t you tweeting about a Biden run in 2020 the other day? He’s 75)

    1. The man,

      “Most Administrations don’t have the FBI organizing a coup”

      That was not a factor preventing the Trump administration from organizing in Nov – Jan, or for their disorganized start in the first few critical months. For example, they were record slow in making appointments to key posts.

      “They said Reagan would be a one termer”

      Reagan was a professional politician, had long wanted to be President, and had a decisive agenda he wanted to implement. I don’t believe any of those are true of Trump. Time will tell.

  6. I think there is a big problem with this theory, in that Democrats keep outperforming in special elections by large numbers. Maybe you could write off Doug Jones as a fluke, but I often hear (when I look – it’s not a popular story to report) of Democrats winning in ruby-red locations. Not by large margins, often, it is true, but often with 30%+ shifts leading up to that narrow win.

    So I’m not sure this is all “for nothing.” I think the Democrats have learned to rile up their base. How rich the harvest from this will be, we don’t know – whether it’s good for America in the long run, we also don’t know.

    1. Sf,

      Yes. But as usual, the results are presented with a heavy pro-Democrat spin. As in this by 538, comparing the 2017 elections to the results in the past 2 presidential elections.

      There has been no gain by the Democrats — zip, nada — the various party identification polls (e.g., by Gallup). I doubt there would be a large shift without it showing up in these numbers.

      Plus — you are ignoring what is historically the largest single factor in US elections: the economy. If it remains at current levels through November — and the GOP doesn’t screw-up — then I doubt the Dems will get the landslide they expect.

      That’s especially so since they’ve proven unable to come up with issues. Hillary ran in 2016 on the “I’m not Trump; be happy and diverse” platform. That’s still all they have, and the clock is running.

  7. I fail to understand why a majority in the Senate can fail to pass laws just because super-majorities are required, the so-called 60% rule.

    Could someone please set out the scope of the super-majority provisions in the Constitution.

    1. Frederick,

      Senescence in a political system manifests itself in many ways. One is the accumulation of rules, many of which are dysfunctional. Inability to reform is another.

      The good news is that unlike an organism (e.g., you or me), a political system can revitalize itself. It’s not easy. Not fun. But it is possible.

  8. Dear Mr Kummer,

    Great post and analysis. Consider me triggered. This post has plagued me, and I’ve composed any number of comments, but none hit the right tone. I am not sure this one does either.

    What keeps coming to the fore (in my feeble brain) is that the Dems are so resistant to see things as they are or anything other than how they see them. This happens on the right, too, of course — very, very resistant — but some of the stuff is so over the top I wonder. I am a heterodox anti-partisan, and one of the Democratic warts that stands out is that they don’t seem to get “the game” as well as the “very stable genius” Wart-O-Rama™ does. Not encouraging. Oh… as Dear Leader would have tweeted: Sad!

    Cf this hardly right of center take on Democratic flyover state failure. The people are Democrats. Want to vote for Democrats. They have problems Democrats *claim* they want to solve, but the Dems actually have not a whit of interest at the highest levels. They want to bitch about carbon footprints over cocktails in Davos. Unfortunately, people these days cannot distinguish between populations and the individuals that make up the population. Rankcredulity tribalism might be a good way to divide and conquer, but it’s also a good formula for genocide, alas. Again, none of this is meant to be partisan, just fretting about a strategy for how to engage *any* side.

    I regret terribly that many people don’t have an appreciation for the humanist and evangelical *principles* upon which the US was founded. Evangelical: we can co-opt you regardless of race, creed, or religion. Now, that’s a little too facile, I know. The creeds and religions need some modicum of compatibility with our notions of human rights, but there is a huge amount of leeway that can easily admit the mainstream of most major religions and creeds. Dems are not interested, and with Trump, Republicans don’t much need to for the next little while.

    What my partisan friends don’t seem to understand is there is truth in this quote attributed to the former President of Tanzania Julius Nyerere:

    Yes, we have one party here. But so does America. Except, with typical extravagance, they have two of them.

    I don’t mean to complain, but I am having problems engaging people who refuse that 1 + 1 = 2 if Trump said so. I have not lived in such bizarre times, and I have the 60s and 70s under my belt. Seriously, thought experiment:

    True or false: Oprah Winfrey says 1 + 1 is not knowable because you don’t know how you will feel until the answer, but if you pay 19.99 for this book by Doctor Phil, you’ll have a better notion and feel better.

    Uh… True? TRUE!

    Very good… very good! That will be 19.99 plus tax and shipping.

    True or false: Donald Trump says 1 + 1 = 2

    NEVER!

    A lot of people know 1 + 1 = 2 for whatever it’s worth in this life, and crying that it doesn’t doesn’t help your credulity in their eyes. The problem is that the tribes are increasingly unconcerned.

    With very kind regards and best wishes for you and your family in the new year,

    Bill

    1. Bill,

      My fear — increasing fear — is that we are becoming Weimerica. In which we might find a leader to solve that “1+1” problem. Or rather 2+2=5, as Orwell described in 1984 (see Wikipedia).

  9. There is a good deal of focus on general approval – but disapproval may be more important.

    The aggregate averages have never been below around 55% since a couple of weeks after inauguration. Looking deeper into them the “strongly” disapprove is *very* high and, quite likely, not due to passing low performances in particular issues but fundamental deal-breakers (Charlottesville etc).

    Thus, even in the best of circumstance (and given the economy and absence of war these are pretty much the best circumstances) the disapproval is never going to be below 50%.

    All dems have to do is to get those 50% out to the polls.

    1. Tom,

      “All dems have to do is to get those 50% out to the polls.”

      That’s not how it works in our system.

      (1) Trump will govern for 3 more years, irrespective of his poll ratings. Trump might not run in 2020. I don’t believe he will (he would be the oldest US president).

      (2) If Trump runs, he will win based on his popularity vs. a specific Democratic candidate — not by abstract approval/disapproval ratings.

      (3) The party identification polls show both parties are losing support (see Gallup’s long record of surveys). Which means elections turn increasingly on local circumstances of that election and personalities.

  10. Compared to all other prior presidents during this time in office, Trump has done dramatically worse. Simply look at the polling data:
    https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/

    This in spite of a strong economy he inherited.

    Your statement previously that he does not want to be reelected is your admission that he can’t get reelected. Period.

    As for the retirement of many of the republican incumbents, very obvious that due to the insanity of the republican party from the racist “Tea Party” era, they are scared that nut cases like Roy Moore and Arpaio will primary them, force them to run further right, which will isolate voters and increase the chance of a Doug Jones type winning. After which they will be left with a lot of debt from a failed campaign.

    So, let’s talk 2020. In the event that you and the people who read your musings have a clue I will give you this insight: based on the business cycle we are headed for a recession. Additionally the boomers are literally in a death spiral; the majority of them only have a 2020 and 2022 before the death rate pushes them into the minority. The angry Republican party is at a generational twilight. Period.

    Sorry…..

    1. Sean,

      (1) “Compared to all other prior presidents during this time in office, Trump has done dramatically worse.”

      True. We have had incompetent presidents, even a borderline treasonous one (James Buchanan). But Trump is our first clown president.

      (2) “Your statement previously that he does not want to be reelected is your admission that he can’t get reelected.”

      That’s a logic FAIL. The two propositions are unrelated. Second, it’s also false. The top factor in most presidential elections is the economy. By most measures it is the strongest it has been in 11 years; many economists believe it is accelerating. If it continues thru 2020 — and Trump does no worse than he did in his first year — he might be able to win against many Democratic candidates (e.g., Sanders, Oprah, Eliz Warren).

      (3) “very obvious that due to the insanity of the republican party from the racist”

      Thank you Professor Xavier. It’s always interesting to see such confident descriptions of what other people are thinking. Few people can make such statements about the thoughts of their spouse and children.

      (4) “In the event that you and the people who read your musings have a clue”

      You have excellent self-esteem!

      (5) “I will give you this insight: based on the business cycle we are headed for a recession”

      I assume you are a zillionaire, if you can make such forecasts. Economists have near-zero ability to predict recessions See the consensus views of the Blue Chip Financial Forecasts, the Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey, and the Fed’s Survey of Professional Forecasters.

      More broadly, there are few signs that a recession is imminent. There are few signs of macro imbalances, inflation is low, inventory to sales ratio is falling fast, the Fed’s Leading Economic Index remains stable, etc. The above surveys of economists are optimistic. Also see the forecasts of the Economic Cycle Research Institute the Conference Board, the OECD’s composite leading indicators (CLI), and the Econbrowser Recession Indicator Index of James Hamilton, Professor of Economics at UC-San Diego (see the probabilty of recession on the sidebar of the home page).

      Also, economic expansions are lasting longer (i.e., slower but more stable growth). Post-WWII expansions lasted an average of 44 months (see the NBER page). The last three expansions were 92 mths, 120 mths, and 73 mths. So far this one has clocked 103 months. Nobody can reliably predict how long it will run. If it lasts until 2020, it will be 139 months.

      The reason is unknown. I agree with the economists who believe that we have entered a new economic regime. New rules. New phenomena (e.g., widespread near-zero real rates, often negative real rates, sometimes negative nominal rates). I was one of the early ones seeing this. See my posts in 2006-2008 (others also saw this). In fact, I’ve made quite a few accurate economic forecasts. Let’s see yours.

    2. Sean,

      Follow-up notes.

      (1) Typo in the length of this expansion: “So far this one has clocked 103 months. Nobody can reliably predict how long it will run. If it lasts until 2020, it will be 139 months.”

      (2) “The angry Republican party is at a generational twilight.”

      There are indications that generation Z (following the Millenials) are quite conservative. That would fit the political alternation of generations so long seen in US politics.

      (3) “Sorry…..”

      Apology accepted. That was an appropriate note to end your comment upon.

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