July 5, 2017



Contrary to prevailing opinion, America has really not gone to hell since the advent of the Trump Administration.

Gasoline prices are the lowest since the early 2000s, lower than $2-per gallon in many localities, and hovering around $2.50 in the Chicago area. The controversial XL pipeline is under construction, bringing Canadian crude oil to refineries in the Gulf. Domestic oil and natural gas drilling has exploded and American energy dependence on OPEC and the oil cartel has diminished significantly.

The stock market's Dow Jones Industrial Average has soared to 21,349, a 15 percent gain since the day after Trump's election, driving business expansion and job creation. Unemployment is 4.4 percent, lowest since 2007, inflation is 2.9 percent, and 522,000 jobs were created since Trump won.

The housing market has rebounded smartly, with property values in some areas exceeding pre-2006 levels, and demand now exceeding supply. Also, interest rates remain low, making mortgages easily affordable to qualified borrowers. Food prices are stable, and auto and appliance sales are brisk. The airline industry can't schedule enough flights to get people to vacation and resort destinations. People are spending money without fear of another recession.

Outside of certain urban areas, like Chicago, crime against persons remains low, and immigration is down by 40 percent, even though "The Wall" is yet (if ever) to be built.

There have been no radical Islamic terrorist attacks on U.S. cities - unlike London, which is teeming with Muslims from the Middle East and Turkey, and unlike Paris, which is teeming with Muslims from Algeria, Libya, Morocco and North Africa.

There is a new justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, giving conservatives a 5-4 majority.

Yet my liberal friends, of which I still have a few, are suffused with forebodings of doom and gloom, residual and unrequited anger that Hillary Clinton is not the president, and refuse to give the president any credit for anything good which is occurring in the country. They incessantly whine about Russian election hacking and Obamacare dismantling - which Trump promised in 2016 to do.

The Trump-haters think his conduct rises to the level of impeachable "high crimes and misdemeanors," which is ridiculous. But Trump won the presidency, not the popular vote. Thus, for half of the population, he is a pretender, and will never will be legitimized.

The liberals' and Democrats' strategy, aided and abetted by the media, is the 5-Ds: Delegitimize, define, distract, disrespect and deploy. They have been successful, defining the president as inconsistent and unknowledgeable, focusing on issues that keep the anti-Trump base intact and energized, calling the president just "Trump," and deploying on-the-street demonstrators so as to create the illusion of massive resistance.

And Trump has not effectively counter-attacked. The initial task of any presidential candidate, and then incoming president, is to have created an easy-to-grasp image, combined with a personality that produces a voter reflex of trusting acceptance, which includes confidence, affection and/or respect, or some combination thereof. Trump failed to do so, and continues to fail.

During the campaign, Trump made a lot of promises, which nobody took too seriously, since he was not expected to be nominated, let alone be elected. He was a media celebrity and TV huckster, and voters used his candidacy to thumb-their-noses at, first, the Republican Establishment, and then the Obama-Clinton-Pelosi Democratic Establishment. A president must be skilled in the art of politics, which is essentially the art of compromise. Trump is skilled in the latter, but Democrats are not willing to compromise, as they want him to fail, or at least be burdened with blame, so as to pacify their base.

According to the RealClearPolitics Web site, Trump's average approval/disapproval is around 41 to 54 percent, with the latest Rasmussen poll putting it at 46 to 54 percent and the USA Today poll at 42 to 53 percent. This is historically low for a first-term president's first year, but not abnormal, for several reasons.

First, Trump is not on the ballot until November of 2020, 40 months away. Much can change by then. The next congressional election is in November of 2018, 16 months away. If the president's approval is still in the low 40s, it means that Democrats will likely win majorities in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House, or both, which would mean total gridlock during 2019-20.

Second, the 2016 pro-Trump base was about 48 percent. As demonstrated by 2016 polling, which predicted a comfortable Clinton win, the methodology was faulty. If current polls are to be believed, roughly 10 percent of the Trump base has flipped to "disapprove." That would be significant erosion, but pollsters tend to over-represent urban respondents in their surveys, and under-represent rural and exurban respondents, so any poll, which has a self-proclaimed "margin-of-error" of plus-or-minus 5 percent, could have higher error. But the president's constant exposure to criticism is having an effect.

And third, based on the results of four isolated special congressional elections thus far in 2017, in Republican-leaning Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and Georgia districts, the Republican base has not eroded, The GA-6 race, in Atlanta's western suburbs, was particularly revealing. The Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, ran a wholly anti-Trump campaign, and Democrats flooded the district with $25 million, mostly for media, which the Republicans matched. Republicans tied Ossoff to former speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The former incumbent, now in the Trump Administration cabinet, won with 62 percent - the Republican base in the upscale district - in 2016, while Trump won 50-48 percent. That meant there was a 12 percent falloff between the Republican congressional and presidential vote, which consisted largely of Republican-leaning women. On June 20, a Republican woman, Karen Handel, won 52 to 48 percent, which indicates that running an anti-Trump campaign may actually energize and anger the pro-Trump base, and that 4 to 6 percent of the 2016 anti-Trump Republicans are still sticking with their party.

Historically, first-term presidents suffer a carryover effect from their initial election, with the defeated candidate's voters not yet ready to confer affection or respect on the winner, or express confidence. That is why, in the first term's first mid-term election, the president's party suffers losses. Some examples:

Barack Obama won convincingly in 2008, as voters blamed the Bush Administration for the nation's economic collapse, but Obama and his congressional Democratic majorities passed the Affordable Health Care Act, known as Obamacare, pushing Obama's "approvals" to the mid-40s. Reaction was swift, with Democrats losing seven Senate and 64 House seats in 2010. Obama was re-elected easily in 2012.

George Bush became president only because he carried Florida by 535 votes, winning the Electoral College but losing the popular vote to Al Gore. His legitimacy was questionable, and his first year was rocky, with a Republican senator switching parties and awarding the Senate to the Democrats. Bush's "approvals" were in the low 40s, like Trump's now. But then along came Sept. 11, 2001, which blunted all political squabbling, and enabled Bush to showcase himself as a leader in time of duress. In the 2002 mid-term, the Republicans gained one Senate and eight House seats. Bush was re-elected in 2004.

Bill Clinton won a three-way 1992 race with just over 43 percent, and proceeded to embark on a liberal agenda, including his version of Obamacare. His "approvals" tanked, and Republicans picked up 10 Senate and 54 House seats in 1994. Clinton governed by "triangulation," meaning taking an opportunistic position somewhere between liberal and conservative, and even enacting welfare reform. He was re-elected in 1996.

Ronald Reagan won in 1980 by a modest margin, on a campaign that promised specific budgetary and tax cuts at a time of deficits and inflation. Voters' level of confidence in and affection for Reagan was minimal, but it soared when he got the Iran hostages back. He then embarked on his supply-side, tax-cutting program, facing intense opposition in the Democratic House, but passing a Republican Senate. Unemployment remained high, and Reagan's "approvals" were in the low 40s. As a result, Republicans gained one Senate seat but lost 26 House seats in 1982. By 1984, however, his economic policies showed results, the economy had recovered, voters' affection for him and confidence in him had grown, and Reagan was re-elected by a massive majority.

Jimmy Carter won in 1976 as a "reformer" on an anti-Nixon tide, following Watergate. But Carter never understood the art of compromise, never worked with Congress, and wanted it done his way. An energy crisis in 1977, coupled with rising inflation, caused Democrats to lose one Senate and 15 House seats in 1978. Carter's "approvals" never got close to 50 percent, and when the hostage crisis lingered for over a year, his doom was sealed.

Richard Nixon won with 43 percent in 1968, mainly because voters were weary of the Vietnam War, racial riots, and excessive spending by the Johnson Administration that produced, by 1969, severe inflation. Nixon was never well liked, but was seen as competent. In 1970, Republicans gained two Senate seats and lost 12 House seats. Nixon won in 1972.

Based on history, Republicans will suffer loses in 2018. But it is by no means certain that Trump will not win in 2020.

Send e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.