Don’t Look Now, But Things Are Getting Brighter for Trump
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- For a guy who’s about to be impeached, President Trump is looking like he’s in better and better shape to be reelected.
A year ago, the Federal Reserve was about to make its fourth interest rate hike. Stock markets were plummeting. Trump had just declared himself “Tariff Man,” and the Mueller Report still seemed like it might be a mortal threat to his presidency.
Six months ago, fears of a recession were rising, driven by worries about Trump’s trade war and the effect it was having on jobs and economic growth.
Today, things don’t seem nearly so bad. Friday’s blockbuster jobs report showed that 266,000 jobs were added last month and unemployment fell to 3.5%, trouncing even the most bullish forecasts and sending the S&P 500 soaring near another record high—of which there have been 26 this year.
The economy appears to be in a much better place than experts feared: good news for an incumbent president heading into an election year. In its analysis of the November jobs report, Bloomberg Economics lowered its projection of 2020 year-end unemployment to an astounding 3.3 percent and forecast “U.S. Election Day Unemployment to Be Lowest Since ’52.” A rate that low will surely get a few mentions at Trump rallies.
Although growth is still slowing, most forecasts have improved. A recession no longer seems likely. Gallup’s latest poll found that 55 percent of respondents rate economic conditions as “excellent” or “good.” Trump is still threatening new tariffs, last week on Argentina and Brazil, and he hasn’t yet closed the “phase one” trade deal with China. But even though an agreement is far from certain, the markets seem to think that the two sides are inching closer. On Friday, Bloomberg News reported that China is in the process of waiving retaliatory tariffs on imports of U.S. pork and soy, a sign that hostilities may be ebbing.
Trump’s superpower is to polarize absolutely everything—it’s the key to his political survival. That’s how he got through the Mueller Report without incurring any meaningful Republican defections. Currently, there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to pull the same trick when the House and Senate vote on impeachment. So far, his poll numbers have barely budged.
As with everything Trump-related, caveats are in order: Trump is volatile and can blow up anything, anytime with a tweet. Positive trade sentiment could quickly turn negative if, for instance, the U.S. were to impose his threatened Dec. 15 tariffs on a new round of Chinese goods. The impeachment inquiry could theoretically produce information that shifts public opinion against him. And the economy still shows weaknesses—in manufacturing, in Upper Midwest job growth—that could worsen and hurt him at the ballot box in key electoral states.
Trump is a serial exaggerator of his own popularity, and even his polling strength with Republicans masks doubts about his honesty. Per FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s approval rating (41.6%) is the lowest of any president at this point in his term. But the second-worst-polling president is Barack Obama, who handily won reelection in 2012, and whose party gained seats in the Senate.
Even amid a litter of polls highlighting Trump’s unpopularity relative to other recent presidents, he appears to be trending in the right direction in the places that matter most. In Wisconsin, which many political analysts expect to be the tipping point state in the 2020 presidential election, the latest poll from Marquette University Law School shows opinion moving toward Trump both on the matter of impeachment and in head-to-head matchups with the top Democratic hopefuls. In October, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders were all leading Trump in Wisconsin. By late November, he had pulled ahead of all three and was beating Pete Buttigieg, too.
In politics, a year is a long time. Plenty can happen to turn a president’s fortunes around. But the latest economic data and polling numbers in states he needs to win reelection suggest the impeachment fight could end with Trump in better political shape than when it began.
Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
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