Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Trump's Ticket to Surviving Impeachment
In roughly 24 hours, President Trump is set to become the third president in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives, but the first who faced that challenge while heading into a reelection campaign.
With the Senate trial poised to acquit him in January, it’s unclear whether Trump’s “MAGA” base or the Democrats’ “Resistance” is more galvanized after the hyper-partisan Washington display -- or whether either side can maintain that momentum for 10 months leading up to Election Day.
While Trump’s tweets reveal his fixation on his place in his history, on Monday he kept his public statements focused on the positive. And for all the negative impeachment headlines over the last week, there was plenty to crow about: Employment continues at near-record levels, productivity has remained high throughout Trump’s presidency, and the November job market surged again. On Monday, the stock market hit records highs -- on pace for a fourth straight day of gains on news of a phase one trade deal with China, ending a year and a half of economic brinksmanship between the two superpowers.
Democrats downplayed the trade breakthrough as a cave to Beijing’s demands, while Trump and his top advisers portrayed it as a windfall for U.S. farmers, agricultural interests and manufacturers, with China agreeing to buy more than $40 billion to $50 billion in agricultural products over the next two years.
Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, said Monday the phase one deal is “absolutely completed” and predicted U.S. exports to China would double. “The Republican Party has become the party of the worker,” he declared Monday.
Time will tell if China will meet those ambitious goals, but ending the stand-off before the beginning of an election year was smart politics. Even though 2019 was a banner year on Wall Street, the trade war continually injected a sense of volatility that left many analysts jittery, unable to say what 2020 would bring. Now, far more forecasters are willing to predict that next year’s economy will remain on the upswing despite earlier recession fears.
“We’ve had 133 days when we’ve seen a new record, and that’s fantastic – our jobs numbers are coming fantastically well – really well,” Trump told a group of governors gathered at the White House Monday to help tout the president’s regulatory rollback.
On Twitter, Trump was equally ebullient: “New Stock Market high! I will never get bored of telling you that – and we will never get tired of winning!”
Despite the economic boasting, impeachment wasn’t far from the president’s thoughts. Into the wee hours, he tweeted a defense of New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew for jumping from the Democratic Party to the GOP over his opposition to impeachment.
“Congressman Jeff Van Drew is very popular in our great and very united Republican Party,” Trump tweeted close to 1 a.m. Tuesday. “It was a great tribute to him that he was able to win his heavily Republican district as a Democrat. People like that are not easily replaceable!”
The dual nature of Trump’s focus over the last week has been dizzying even for a president known for his wild mood swings, but any president would have welcomed such positive news the same week the House is set to approve two articles of impeachment accusing him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Since the Thanksgiving break, when headlines predicted several end-of-the-year pitfalls for the president, Trump has seemed to glide right over them with help from Democrats who also wanted to appear as if they could walk and chew gum at the same time – impeach the president while also continuing to legislate. Over the last week, Trump worked with them to secure support for his new North American trade deal and averted a government shutdown with a last-minute spending deal.
There was also good news on the impeachment front itself. Despite weeks of House Democrats’ televised impeachment hearings, public support for impeaching Trump either remained unchanged or moved slightly in the president’s favor. Some 48% of voters now oppose Trump’s impeachment while 47% support it, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
“It’s like the hearings have never happened,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. “These arguments have only served to reinforce existing views and everyone is rooting for their side.”
For the first time since House Democrats initiated the impeachment process in October, support for impeaching the president is officially underwater with 47.4% opposing impeachment and removal from office and 46.7% percent supporting it, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
There’s also evidence in the polling data suggesting that the impeachment drive could hurt Democrats in the key Midwestern swing states that Trump won in 2016 and needs to hold onto in 2020 to remain in the White House for a second term.
Before the hearings, quarterly polling by the Republican firm Firehouse Strategies showed Trump struggling in the big battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But early December surveys show him beating every Democrat in those three critical states, including Joe Biden, who was polling ahead of Trump in head-to-head matchups in those states earlier this year.
Trump’s impeachment troubles stem from a phone call in which he pressed the new president of Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter over the latter’s lucrative role on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company while the then-vice president was serving as the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine.
By focusing on a controversial relationship involving the Bidens, which even most Democrats concede looked improper, they’ve been willing to accept the collateral damage to their top 2020 contender in a head-to-head matchup with Trump.
Democrats argue that Trump abused his power by conditioning aid to Kyiv on the Ukrainian president’s willingness to announce an investigation of the Bidens, though he relented and provided the aid without any announcement from the Ukrainian leader. They also say Trump obstructed Congress by blocking at least nine of his administration officials from testifying and stonewalling on numerous record requests. The White House has denied any wrongdoing, arguing that Democrats would weaken executive authority if Trump officials were allowed to testify.
Democrats continued to press their case Monday, with the attention already shifting to the Senate where the impeachment trial will take place in January.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Republicans to allow four administration officials to testify, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Schumer is pressing Republicans to subpoena those individuals even though during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in early 1999, he dismissed such witness testimony as mere “political theater.”
“It’s a totally different situation,” Schumer said Monday, citing the sexual nature of the 1999 impeachment. “There’s no analogy.”
Senate Republicans will control the entire process and they’ve shown no appetite for calling witnesses, rejecting Democrats’ push for them, as well as calls from Trump and his supporters to put the Bidens, the whistleblower and others on the stand. As the drama plays out, there is one Clinton impeachment precedent that Schumer and his party surely hope does not turn out to be analogous: Clinton didn’t just survive his impeachment after the Senate acquitted him, he thrived.
Bill Clinton’s impeachment didn’t rattle the markets. Instead, the S&P rallied 39% in the following year as Clinton’s approval rating reached an all-time high of 73%, and he finished out his second term with a Gallup job approval rating of 65%.
Although Trump’s polarizing personality and policies have prevented him from registering any higher than 46%, according to Gallup daily tracking averages, he’s only a few points shy of that high now as he stares down the barrel of impeachment. His campaign officials argue impeachment has actually been a boon for their side, spurring record campaign donations and rally attendance.
Meanwhile, the roaring economy has defied repeated headlines that it’s losing steam. It’s providing a political tailwind that, if sustained, has the power to carry Trump past the current mess and into the 2020 election season with an unimpeachable record of success on one of the most important issues to voters.