President Donald Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally at the Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia.
Leah Millis | Reuters
WASHINGTON – Looking back now, the night of February 4th was probably the height of Donald Trump’s presidency.
A few minutes after 9:00 pm ET, Trump entered the elaborate Chamber Chamber and then happily moved down the aisle, all to the sound of thunderous applause from the Republicans, who sang “another four years.”
This was Trump’s third state of the Union address. Trump’s 90-minute speech was filled with the confidence, self-flattery and entertainment that became the hallmarks of his term.
The speech also reflects his optimism about the economy, a sentiment that millions of Americans shared with him at the time, according to polls. Financial markets were skyrocketing and the unemployment rate was at an all-time low. That afternoon, the Nasdaq Composite Index had reached a record high, at 9,467. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, an indicator that Trump often raises, closed at 28,807 that day, already on track for an all-time high of 29,551 that would hit the end of the month.
The economy wasn’t the only thing Trump was celebrating that Tuesday night. The day before, in the nation’s first Iowa caucuses, the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders had won the popular vote. Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist who would not do as much against Trump in general elections as former vice president Joe Biden would do, according to the poll.
Trump also knew that the next day he would be acquitted in the Senate impeachment process. For Trump, the verdict would represent a long-awaited triumph over his perceived enemies, including Democrats in Congress, whistleblowers in his own White House, and “deep state” government bureaucrats that Trump feared was planning to bring him down.
With his impeachment process behind him and his highest approval score ever, Trump seemed perfectly positioned to easily win the re-election in November.
And now almost everything is gone.
In just over a month, three pillars on which his reelection thesis is based have all collapsed: the strong economy that Trump plans to pursue; the Sanders campaign Trump had planned to run on; and the “us against them” approach to Washington and the federal government, on which Trump built his political mark.
President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address at a joint session of the United States Congress in the chamber of the United States Capitol Chamber in Washington, the United States, on February 4, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
On Wednesday, the Dow dropped below its closed level on January 19, 2017, the day before Trump took office promising to “make America rich again”. Market losses reflect wider anxieties across the nation, where coronavirus has forced the shutdown of much of the U.S. economy and has made recession almost inevitable.
Meanwhile, Sanders and the progressive far-left movement he promised to build failed to win over Democratic primary voters. Instead, they are ready to appoint a moderate expert, Biden, to race against Trump in the fall.
Back in Washington, Trump is attempting to orchestrate a sprawling federal response to the coronavirus epidemic backed by a White House messaging machine that produces daily praise releases that embrace Trump’s “whole government” approach.
But by promoting massive federal spending through large government programs, Trump undermines one of the central principles of Trumpism: his belief that the federal government is a corrupt, bloated and broken institution, as the “unelected bureaucrats” who fill the its ranks should not be trusted.
“The coronavirus crisis has revealed that Trump is not well prepared and not a hard worker,” said Matthew Barreto, a professor of political science and Chican studies at UCLA.
“When everything goes well, these deep character flaws are hidden. But when a major crisis strikes, voters will remember that Trump was completely asleep and even passed on misleading and false information.”
As of Thursday morning, there have been more than 9,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 150 Americans had died from it. The stock market had unabated volatility and claims for unemployment benefits for the past week have jumped ahead of a likely increase in layoffs.
Yeah, polls are showing that voters have more confidence in the federal government as a whole than the president does. A recent NBC / Wall Street Journal survey found that 62% of respondents trust the federal government to manage the coronavirus crisis, compared with 48% who said they trust Trump.
The end of prosperity?
“Since my election, US stock markets have increased by 70%, adding over $ 12 trillion to our nation’s wealth, transcending everything anyone believed was possible,” Trump said during his state of the Union address. in February.
The American economy, he said, “is advancing at an unimaginable pace not long ago, and we will never ever go back.” On February 12, eight days after Trump had promised Americans a future full of endless growth, the Dow hit its record high.
But now, less than eight weeks later, panic over the coronavirus pandemic has made the president’s promises empty. Markets dropped by over 30% in a few days. Much of the wealth that Trump claimed credit for has been wiped out.
Many analysts now predict that the U.S. economy could decline by 5% in the second quarter of this year, as schools, bars, restaurants, theaters, gyms and workplaces across the country are closed for weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. . On Wednesday, a JPMorgan analyst warned that the second quarter contraction could go up to 14%.
Major airlines are in danger of bankruptcy as travelers cancel their trips and stay close to home, some by choice, and others on the orders of state and local governments. This is expected to continue until summer, Trump said on Monday, although it may be “longer than that”.
Economists and investors now seem resigned to the fact that the US economy will enter a recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. The only questions that remain now are how long the recession will last and how deep it will cut.
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly told Senate Republicans that, unless massive government intervention in the economy, the unemployment rate in the United States could rise to 20% in a matter of months. When asked about the comments during a briefing on Wednesday, Mnuchin said that the figure was “an absolute worst case scenario”, but not something that Mnuchin never believed could actually happen.
Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury Secretary, right, speaks next to U.S. President Donald Trump during a Coronavirus Task Force press conference in the White House meeting room in Washington, DC, the United States, Tuesday March 17, 2020 .
Kevin Dietsch | Bloomberg | Getty Images.
But if the final figure turns out to be simply bad or catastrophic, history indicates that they will be terrible for Trump’s re-election prospects.
“It would be very difficult for the president to survive November” if the economy sinks into recession, said William Galston, a senior member of the government at the Brookings Institution. “I can’t think of a precedent for this.”
Despite dire economic warning signs, however, Trump’s re-election campaign still claims ownership of what it calls “Trump’s economy”.
“The basic fundamentals of Trump’s economy are strong and President Trump is ensuring that the solid prosperity that Americans are experiencing is likely to remain,” Kayleigh McEnany, an election campaign spokesman, told CNBC.
Trump’s democratic opponents, he said, “would cancel Trump’s economy.”
This type of boundless economic optimism has long been a part of Trump’s political DNA. So Trump has the will to ignore the economic reality in order to paint a more solar picture of the facts on the ground support, be it the financial markets, the United States economy, his personal wealth or his business.
On Friday, after a month of historical decline, the markets reversed and rose sharply. But Trump’s tweet is still deeply misleading. Friday’s market wave was an anomalous data point and Trump used it to mask a wider reality. Stocks have resumed their drastic falls this week.
With the election and a potential recession looming, Trump’s habit of pretending that the economy is doing better than it really is is becoming increasingly risky, Galston said.
“Trump has to be careful now, not to say things that contradict the evidence of ordinary people’s experiences, what’s in front of them every day,” he said.
“As president, you can say almost anything you want about Afghanistan, Iran or the court cases. But when tens of millions of families have difficulties and experience personal pain, you cannot tell them that the sky is blue when it is green, “He said.
Trump is certainly not the first candidate to see the bottom of their biggest campaign promise drop. But there is a saying in politics: if you can’t convince voters that you are the best guy, then convince them that your opponent is the worst. Trump is a master of this type of negative campaign.
“Americans of all political beliefs are tired of radical and rage-ridden left-wing socialists,” Trump said in a campaign demonstration in New Jersey in late January. “Really, the Democratic Party is the socialist party and perhaps worse.” Later in the demonstration. Trump said Democrats “have never been more extreme than they are at the moment,” adding: “These people are crazy. They are inspired by socialists like Bernie. [Sanders]”.
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during the Bernie Sanders Rally “Bernie’s Back” in Queensbridge Park.
Lev Radin | LightRocket | Getty Images
When Trump said this, the polls actually showed Sanders a comfortable lead in a crowded democratic camp, so there were probably some Democrats taking cues from him.
And it is also true that Sanders embraced the “democratic socialist” label and did not hide his admiration for the economies of the “Nordic model”, which use heavy taxes to redistribute wealth and finance a vast social welfare system.
For Trump, Sanders’ first successes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada were excellent news. Long before the Democratic primary began, Trump had rallied his supporters for more than a year with wild claims about how Democrats are all socialists intent on destroying free markets.
As long as Sanders was in the lead, Trump had the best possible platform to make dark prophecies about what a President Sanders’ socialist hold on America might look like. Trump’s re-election was the last better hope of the voters, the de facto choice for anyone who did not appreciate the idea that the United States became the next Venezuela, the reasoning went.
When Trump swore in his State of the Union speech in February that “he would never allow socialism to destroy American health care,” he was making a direct decision on Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan.
The night Trump pledged to save America from Sanders, Biden’s campaign was at a crossroads. He had just finished fourth in the Iowa caucus, a milestone that even the candidate admitted was “punched in the stomach”.
The following week, Biden finished fifth in New Hampshire’s first grade, only to finish second in the Nevada caucus. At that point, the Biden campaign was practically on life support. Millions of Democrats across the country were waking up to the real possibility that Sanders – who isn’t even a registered Democrat, he’s an independent – would be on top of the party ticket in November.
But everything changed on February 29, when Biden demolished the rest of the Democratic camp in South Carolina’s long-awaited primary. It was the first primary in the South and Biden won by an astounding margin of nearly 30 points.
Former Presidential Democratic Vice President Joe Biden talks to supporters at an election event at Wofford University on February 28, 2020 in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Sean Rayford | Getty Images
Since then, Biden has won the lion’s share of primary and democratic delegates. On Tuesday evening, the former vice president won competitions in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, consolidating his almost insurmountable lead over Sanders.
All this good news for Biden, however, is bad news for Trump.
“Trump was hoping to run against Bernie Sanders and play the so-called socialism card, and now that plan has also fallen apart,” Barla of UCLA said. “Vice President Biden will be a formidable opponent who has more experience than Trump in the White House.”
To make matters worse for Trump, Biden has direct experience in response to a national economic crisis, which offers him a unique perspective from which to challenge Trump’s decisions.
“You will hear Biden talk more and more about his role in the 2009 economic recovery package that he helped promote during the Obama administration,” said Baretto.
“The 2008 recession has been very serious. Looking back, most economists give the Obama administration a lot of credit for stabilizing the economy, and Biden has played a role in this.”
As Sanders ‘main campaign fades, expect to see Trump’s campaign work hard to saddle Biden with Sanders’ most polarizing political background.
“Democrats are choosing between two far-left extremists trying to open our borders, destroy millions of jobs by eliminating fossil fuels and oppose travel restrictions” which helped limit the spread of the coronavirus, McEnany said CNBC.
Moments later, McEnany connected them together again, saying: “Both Bernie and Biden would have canceled Trump’s economy and would not have had the leadership needed to guide our country through the pandemic that President Trump is navigating with an all-around approach. American”.
The “invisible enemy”
As Trump and his administration begin putting together a massive trillion-dollar stimulus package managed by the government to mitigate the economic effects of coronavirus, another piece of Trump’s reelection camp is falling apart: Trump’s insistence on be at war against the “big government”, a “rigged system” which he claims is controlled by his enemies, democrats, the media, the “deep state” and the “swamp”.
In 2016, Trump won the presidency in part because his supporters believed he would dismantle a corrupt ruling class of lobbyists and technocrats, “drained the swamp” and “downsized the swollen federal bureaucracy.”
Four years later, federal agencies were really gutted, largely through a combination of attrition, budget cuts, “rationalization” and low morale.
Suddenly, in the face of the coronavirus, Trump’s commitment to combat the administrative state and “drain the swamp” was sidelined in favor of phrases such as “an entirely governmental approach”.
As the Americans, frightened and desperate, have increasingly sought help from the federal government, Trump has begun to confront each other in the past few days, after weeks of belittling and rejecting the threat from the coronavirus. Starting this week, Trump has worn the mantle of the great government himself, taking credit for the federal response and attacking the media for any perceived criticism.
However, turning abruptly from a crusader fighting the evils of the big government into a benevolent bureaucrat ready to distribute big government bailouts, set up task forces and send checks to people in the mail is not easy.
Trump’s profound cuts to the federal workforce over the past three years have already come back to haunt him.
President Donald Trump announces his decision for the United States to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House on June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Vinci McNamee | Getty Images
Last week, Trump was targeted by the 2018 closure of the National Health Council’s global health office in the White House, responsible for coordinating responses to the pandemic. When a reporter asked the president to close the office, Trump became defensive and agitated, calling the question “bad” and saying he knew nothing of the move.
“It’s the administration, maybe they do,” said Trump, apparently referring to his administration.
In order for Trump to argue convincingly for re-election, he will have to find a way to reconcile the two contradictory versions of himself that he is currently projecting. There is the precoronavirus Trump, which built an entire presidency on principles such as not giving government benefits away for free and not trusting career bureaucrats. And there is post-coronavirus Trump, who tweeted this previously unthinkable message on Wednesday morning.
“For people who are now out of work due to important and necessary containment policies, such as closing hotels, bars and restaurants, money will come for you soon,” said the president.
Brookings’ Galston succinctly described Trump’s current situation.
“It’s easy to hate the government until you need it.”
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify how polls characterize Sanders’ chances against Trump in general elections.