Who’s Winning Now?

President Trump at CPAC 2019 hugging the American flag before boasting about “winning.”

Remember all the winning candidate Donald Trump promised? “We’re going to win so much. You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please Mr. President, I have a headache. Please, don’t win so much. This is getting terrible,’” he said on February 19, 2016, just before the South Carolina primary. He repeated the vow of non-stop winning on numerous occasions, sometimes spelling out presumed victories on “trade” or at “the border.” President Trump even asserted in his rambling, semi-incoherent speech at CPAC last weekend, “America is winning again.” 

Well, guess what? Trump is blowing smoke. All claims of winning are hogwash, for the truth is simple: The president is on a monumental, epic losing streak. He is losing on trade, the deficit, immigration, and North Korea. He is losing in the court of public opinion. He is losing so much that his already narrow path to reelection in 2020 may snap shut.

Foreign-made TV sets on sale in Overland Park, Kansas.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the United States trade deficit for 2018 reached $891.2 billion, the largest in the nation’s 243-year history. That whopping total comes after two years of Trumpian “America First” policies, including slapping tariffs on some goods in an attempt to curb the deficit. For a president who often said, incorrectly, that trade deficits are a good measure of “winning” and “losing,” such an enormous deficit is telling.

Trump is wrong about the significance of trade deficits. An imbalance in what we buy from foreign nations versus what we sell to other countries is not a sign of a sick economy, nor does it mean the United States is being “cheated.” The lowest trade deficit in recent years came in 2009, the tail end of the Great Recession, and the shrinking disparity reflected a bad economy in which Americans bought fewer goods abroad. Today, the economy is relatively robust — artificially so, perhaps, due to the stimulus of tax cuts (see below) and federal spending. In a healthy economy, consumers have more money to spend on more goods, including merchandise manufactured overseas.  At the same time, the dollar is strong, making foreign products cheaper and our exports more expensive to other countries, especially ones — like China and the European Union — with shrinking economies. Trade deficits are a sign of relative economic health; but, for Trump, they are politically toxic, given his overblown rhetoric on the subject.

The exploding deficit is another bad sign for Trump. The fiscal deficit is related to the trade deficit. By cutting taxes in 2017 and taking the lid off government spending, Trump has primed the economy. More money in the economy means more spending abroad. Less revenue for the government, which, at the same time, is spending more, means a burgeoning deficit of $779 billion in fiscal year 2018. The federal budget deficit rose 17 percent last year and is on pace to top $1 trillion before the next presidential election. The deficit keeps getting worse. In the first four months of fiscal 2019, the budget shortfall rose 77 percent over the same period last year. These massive deficits come under a Republican president!

An immigrant apprhended trying to cross the southern border without authorization.

There has not been much winning on immigration, the issue that more than any other defines Trump’s presidency. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that unauthorized border crossings are the highest in 12 years, despite Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and cruel policies to deter immigration. Trump shut down the government recently for 35 days because Congress refused to fund a border wall. The shutdown ended only when Trump accepted less money for the wall than he could have obtained earlier in negotiations with Congress. Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build the wall has been overturned in the House, and, as of now, the Senate is poised to follow suit.

Michael Cohen testifying before the House Oversight Committee, February 27, 2019.

Then there is North Korea: Trump’s obsequious fawning over that country’s tyrannical dictator at the summit in Hanoi last week failed to yield an agreement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Granted, the results could have been worse. Our clueless president could have pulled a reverse wag-the-dog and made peace at terrible terms to distract from his domestic problems and countless investigations. Still, his performance in absolving Kim Jong-un for the brutal torture and murder of Otto Wambier hit a new low even for this president.

While Trump was in Asia sucking up to yet another dictator, his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was on Capitol Hill detailing the president’s illegal and shady behavior. When asked by Quinnipiac University pollsters whom they believe, 50 percent of respondents chose Cohen while only 35 percent named Trump. Sixty-four percent believe Trump committed crimes before becoming president. 

The 35 percent who believe Trump over Cohen tracks with the president’s consistent base of support, the voters who will side with Trump, no matter what, even if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot someone, as he once boasted. But, a shade more than a third of the electorate is not going to get Trump reelected in 2020. He needs his core supporters plus those voters who helped give him a 45 percent approval rating in a poll conducted after Cohen’s testimony. If his approval rating were to hold steady, Trump would still lose the popular vote, but he might squeak by in the Electoral College.

The additional 10 percent are people who evidently believe Trump is a lying, untrustworthy rapscallion but they like his policies. Will they still like his policies if he keeps losing on trade, the deficit, immigration, and North Korea? If Trump’s losing streak continues, he may be headed to an epic defeat in 2020. That would be a win for the country!

Posted March 8, 2019

 

 

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