Tom with the BTRTN December 2020 Month in
Review. This was a month that simply has
no precedent in American history. Yes,
we said that last month, too. And that wasn’t
the first time, either. We’ve lost
Whatever pretense remained that Donald Trump was performing
the role of President of the United States in the first 47 months of his
presidency was stripped bare in this, his 48th. In a presidency in which every month is a candidate for “worst ever,” the only drama now is whether or not Trump can possibly pack
even more dysfunction and damage than ever into his final 20 days in January.
Trump invested the entire month in personal grievance. Those very loud sounds you heard emanating
from the White House were those of a man bent on destroying democracy,
cratering the most fundamental of our democratic institutions: a free and fair election process and the orderly transition of power. His cultish
appeal is so strong that he managed to convince a sizable portion of the
Republican Party that something went dreadfully wrong with the election – when, in fact, it was proven time and again that absolutely
nothing went wrong. Indeed, this was
an all-too-rare (of late) shining moment for our democracy. Collectively, our country executed our elections superbly in the midst of a pandemic, accommodating a record turnout and a variety
of voting formats, over extended vote-making and vote-counting periods, with
virtually no irregularities to speak of.
Through dozens and dozens of investigations, lawsuits, audits and recounts, the
only consistent finding was that there was no
evidence of fraud whatsoever. These
verdicts have affirmed the fairness and equity of our electoral system – undermining not only Trump’s fraud charges but also the very basis of past GOP efforts to disenfranchise voter segments that tend to be
Following the voting and initial flurry of challenges in October and November, the
electoral process continued to unfold in a reasonably orderly fashion in December. Having once claimed
that his followers would get tired of winning, Trump himself never tired of whining – and losing.
He suffered loss after loss in the courts (more than 50 cases in all),
his legal team performing in an embarrassing manner, forced to make ludicrous
arguments that were excoriated by judge after judge, including Trump
appointees, for lack of evidence. After recounts,
investigations and the courts all validated the swing state election outcomes,
state after state accredited the electoral vote in line with them, a process
completed by December 6. On December 14,
the electors gathered and abided by those choices, to a person. The Supreme Court spoke twice during this
ordeal, each time essentially refusing to hear the case for lack of evidence or
standing. Trump’s ultimate weapon, his
three personally selected conservative picks, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett,
each voted against him both times. Headlines reaffirming Joe Biden’s victory appeared again and again.
After the Court and the electors spoke, Mitch McConnell
finally recognized Biden as the President-Elect on December 15, robbing Trump
of his most powerful ally. His other
primary henchman, Attorney General William Barr, also broke with Trump, first
publicly affirming that there was no material election fraud to be found and then refusing
to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate the election (or Hunter Biden, for
that matter). Finally Barr announced he was leaving the administration early –
presumably to avoid being party to any further shenanigans.
Trump promptly turned on McConnell and any Republican that
recognized Biden as well. These were the
rats finally deserting the sinking ship, leaving Trump only with even lower
life forms clinging to him in the White House.
This inner circle included such fringe scum as Michael Flynn and Sidney
Powell, an attorney so loathsome, so steeped in the most absurd of conspiracy
theories (that somehow the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez had a role in
the election “fraud”) that Rudy Giuliani
found her objectionable. Flynn and
Powell threw around terms like “martial law” and “special counsel” with vigor,
tempting Trump to do even more endgame damage to the credibility of our
elections in his waning days.
But for all of Trump’s manic cacophony in his efforts to
upend the election outcomes, perhaps even more striking in the month was his
silence – a silence borne of his complete abdication of his role as Chief
Executive. Some of the silence was
predictable – Trump quickly dismissing a substantial Russian hacking effort (that some said was tantamount to war) as perhaps instead the work of the Chinese. This conclusion was completely at odds with
the conclusion of Russian duplicity announced publicly by Mike Pompeo and the intelligence
But Trump also was silent in ways that confounded. Why not issue some statement in the wake of the suicide bombing in Nashville, as
is typical and expected from a president?
And why not claim at least some
credit for the rapid development of several COVID-19 viruses, especially given
that Trump’s only interest in managing COVID was vaccine development? Most politicians would savor these moments to
rise above the fray and act presidential (in the first instance) and take a
victory lap (in the second). It was
crystal clear that Trump, by choice, was simply refusing to put on the
presidential suit and do his duty. This
is not hard stuff, but apparently too much for a president consumed with his
defeat — and determined to golf his way through the transition ordeal.
Of course, Trump continue to ignore the virus itself in
December, a month in which a record shattering 5.9 million new cases and 80,000
deaths were recorded. The latter number,
of course, far exceeds the 58,000 deaths in the 20-year history of U.S.
involvement in the Vietnam War. But
Trump issued not a single statement of sympathy, not a single call to a victim’s
family, not a single exhortation to wear masks, not a single call for
perseverance as the vaccines made their way into the arms of highest priority
health workers – indeed, not a word about those health workers and their heroic efforts.
Trump emerged only twice from his self-imposed silence to
perform executive duties, and both were miserable exercises of presidential
prerogatives. The first was the initial
wave of presidential pardons. Presidents
are granted a completely unfettered ability to pardon anyone they wish, for
both crimes committed and also potential convictions to come (at the federal
level). There have been plenty of
controversial pardons in the past, but Trump’s initial wave of 41 pardons in
late December were beyond the pale, sparing from justice a collection of
cronies, murderers and miscreants without historic parallel. The pardoned included several convicted in the
Mueller investigation (such as Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), the father of
Jared Kushner, and, perhaps most appallingly, four Blackwater contractors
convicted of murdering civilians, including children, in Iraq. Never has justice been so swiftly overturned
and unjustly denied.
The other area that awoke Trump from his slumber was the
COVID relief bill, itself a lengthy exercise in Congressional futility. After months of stalemate, a subset of
bi-partisan centrist Senators broke through with a formulation that ultimately
yielded long awaited relief in the $900 billion range. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin represented
the White House in the negotiations, and the arduous process was brought to
conclusion in mid-December with the twinning of a $900 billion COVID bill with
a $1.4 trillion year end spending bill to fund the government through September
30, 2021. The bill finally passed both
houses of Congress by late December.
Trump was completely uninvolved in the process, presumably
delegating it to Mnuchin. But when it
was brought to his desk for signature, he promptly disavowed it, calling the
$600 direct checks to Americans a “disgrace,” proposing instead a $2,000 check
provision. This delay caused
various benefits to expire and threatened to shut down the government, given the
twinning with the spending bill. It also
put all Republicans, including Georgia Senators Purdue and Loeffler, on the
verge of a run-off election that will decide the fate of the Senate, in the
excruciating position of either undoing all their work or looking like
unfeeling cheapskates. Trump eventually
backed down, signing the bill, gaining nothing in return for his pointless
intervention – losing yet again.
Trump also suffered his first veto override of his
presidency on the National Defense Authorization Act, a routine piece of
legislation that has been passed for 59 consecutive years, because of its
failure to address the liability protection status enjoyed by social media
purveyors. Why Trump has chosen to exit
his presidency with not one but two public legislative humiliations is beyond
comprehension. Perhaps he has indeed become
addicted to losing.
Throughout all of this madness, Joe Biden has been quietly
living up to and exceeding every expectation for his presidency. He has stepped into the leadership void with
a series of public speeches that articulate themes the president himself
should, of course, have been advancing. He has
mixed doses of the cold hard realities of what lies ahead in the short term
with ringing calls for optimism in our ability to defeat the virus with common
sense mitigation measure (masks) at first, and then the vaccines. He has selected a Cabinet that, to date, has
lived up to his promise to be diverse in record-setting fashion, but
also reflects his governing style, which is decidedly center-left. And while he avoided a senseless give-and-take
with Trump on the fraud charges, he has scolded Trump and his team when needed (for example, to call out instances of transition obstacles), And, he has also left room for recalcitrant congressional Republicans — that he must work with going forward — to recognize him on their own
timelines. In short, he has not as yet
missed a step.
The vaccines were approved with great fanfare by the FDA in mid-December,
with the bold promise of 20 million (first) doses in the arms of Americans by
December 31. But this short-term
deadline was badly missed; at this juncture, the official tally is under three
million. This might be mildly
understated, but the real number is still almost certainly a fraction of the
goal. Trump’s statement in response to this miss was to throw the
states under the bus – claiming that the federal government was only
responsible for getting the vaccine to the states, and it was up to them to get
them to the public. But there is no
doubt the federal distribution performance has fallen short, and the states themselves are
terribly underfunded for the distribution challenge, which the COVID relief bill will, in
part, address. But once again, the lack
of a true national plan, from factory to arms, has been exposed. Biden will have to address this as Job One.
Where does Trump go from here in his last 20 days? The next step in his quest to stay in office
is to upend the January 6 Congressional certification of the Electoral College
results. He has found about 140 GOP
members of the House to challenge this certification, and one Senator, the
ambitious Josh Hawley of Missouri. This
tactic too will fail, but the damage this spectacle has and will cause is
incalculable. And apart from all this, we will witness the very public agony of Mike Pence, who must decide whether to accept the results of the election, side with Trump and deny the will of the voters and the basic tenets of our democracy, or turn the gavel over to Chuck Grassley by ducking the proceedings. This is known as a lose-lose-lose; each option could destroy his presidential prospects.
Mitch McConnell and Ben Sasse are, first and foremost,
Trump enablers. Anyone who voted against
impeachment falls in this category, and McConnell, certainly, has gone much
further than that, indulging in the fraud fantasy for far too long. But both appear to have finally seen the
light. McConnell has opposed the effort
to upend the January 6 certification process from the start, warning fellow Republican
Senators not to support it. Now that
Hawley has breached that line, McConnell has plainly stated that in his 36-year
career he has “never faced a more consequential vote,” a choice he characterized
as between voting against the most popular GOP figure of our time or voting
against democracy – making clear he stands opposed to Trump.
Sasse’s words were even more direct and bear repeating:
“Having been in private conversation with two dozen of my
colleagues over the past few weeks, it seems useful to explain in public why I
will not be participating in a project to overturn the election — and why I
have been urging my colleagues also to reject this dangerous ploy…The president
and his allies are playing with fire. They have been asking — first the
courts, then state legislatures, now the Congress — to overturn the results of
a presidential election. They have unsuccessfully called on judges and are now
calling on federal officeholders to invalidate millions and millions of votes.
If you make big claims, you had better have the evidence. But the president
doesn’t and neither do the institutional arsonist members of Congress who will
object to the Electoral College vote.
When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional
Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent — not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries
about how they will ‘look’ to President Trump’s most ardent supporters…Let’s be
clear what is happening here: we have a bunch of ambitious politicians who
think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without
doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong — and this issue is bigger
than anyone’s personal ambitions.”
Beyond January 6, expect more despicable pardons. It is possible that Trump may pardon
himself. It is even possible he may also
resign and demand that President Pence pardon him. Trump also has the power of Executive Orders
at his disposal, and he remains Commander-in-Chief. It is impossible to predict how he might use all of these powers as the clock on his pathetic president dwindles.
At this juncture, Trump has shown virtually no restraint in
his wrecking ball quest for self-preservation.
Fasten your seat belts. Month 49
could indeed be the rockiest yet.
On Christmas Day, Donald Trump had plenty of reasons to be
agitated. COVID cases and deaths were
growing at a record shattering pace.
Vaccines for the virus were not being distributed at a pace that his
administration had promised. And his
machinations to overturn the election were being stymied at every turn.
But he was not focused, at that moment, on any of those
challenges, nor those of the economy, the pending COVID stimulus bill, the
apparent veto override to the Defense bill, the upcoming Georgia elections, the
Russian hacking or any of a thousand other things that may be on a president’s
This is what was on his mind: he
retweeted a Breitbart News post that said: “The elitist snobs
in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history
off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years.”
TRUMP APPROVAL RATING
Trump’s approval rating remained in the same typical range for
the month of December, at 42%. This
marks the 36th consecutive
month that Trump’s approval rating fell in the 40-45% range. Trump paid the ultimate price for failing to
expand his base of support in losing the reelection. But he has paid no further price for his
behavior since, thus far preserving his ability to seek the nomination again in
TRUMP APPROVAL RATING
TRUMP’S HANDLING OF THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
Approval of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus continued
in the 40% range, a tick mark below his approval rating.
TRUMP HANDLING OF CORONAVIRUS
The Trumpometer remained in historically disastrous
territory in December at -108. The -108
Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are an
astounding 108% lower than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration, per
the chart below (and with more explanation of methodology below).
This level is virtually unchanged versus the -109 from the
previous month. There was no new GDP
information. Consumer confidence dropped
while the price of gas rose. These
negative impacts were offset by a slight drop in the unemployment rate to 6.7%,
and a modest rise (+3%) in the Dow Jones.
The “Trumpometer” was designed to provide an objective
answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980
Reagan campaign: “Are you better off
than you were four years ago?” The
Trumpometer now stands at -108, which of course means things are far worse than
that, even worse than the -53 recorded at the end of George W. Bush’s time in
office, in the midst of the Great Recession.
End Clinton 1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
% Chg. Vs. 1/20/2017 Inaug.
(+ = Better)
Price of Gas
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BTRTN calculates our
monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct
daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You
Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and
does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters. The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average
but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.
the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we
take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot
and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.
The Trumpometer aggregates a set of
economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of
aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017,
on an average percentage change basis… The basic idea is to demonstrate
whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took
office. The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones
Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.