The Republican Party faces the first significant test of its 2018 strength on Tuesday in Georgia, where the party hopes to hold the Sixth Congressional District left empty when Tom Price was elevated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. That race, pitting Republican Karen Handel against Democrat Jon Ossoff, is seen by both parties to a large extent as a referendum on how America views President Trump. A poll last week found that nearly half the district views Trump unfavorably — with Ossoff winning 93 percent of those votes.
On Monday morning, the president jumped into the fray in his own inimitable way, tweeting a request that voters in the district back Handel, since “Dems want to stop tax cuts, good healthcare and Border Security” and because “[t]heir ObamaCare is dead with 100 percent increases in.” It’s an argument for Handel based on the idea that, without Handel, Trump’s agenda is at risk.
That’s not the case, of course, given the composition of the House. But if Handel falls in a district that leans Republican, it suggests that other similar districts might also go blue next November. And it suggests, too, that Trump may be a drag on the party, not a boon. (Handel seems to be keeping her distance from the leader of her party.)
On Sunday, Trump offered a series of tweets that stand as a defense of where his presidency stands at the moment. He didn’t do so to give Handel cover, it’s safe to assume, but instead to rebut the popular perception that things aren’t going that well. In presenting his case, though, he offered a few questionable data points.
Here’s what Trump said:
Allow us to parse.
“The Witch Hunt.” Trump’s preferred term for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The investigation began in July 2016 and explored how members of his campaign team may have coordinated with the Russians on that effort. Trump’s reportedly been looped into the investigation to determine whether he attempted to obstruct its course.
That Trump himself starts with the Russia investigation is itself telling.
“Many new jobs”. Trump leads with the issue that he has long used as a benchmark for his success. It’s true that the country added 810,000 jobs from January to May — but that’s actually a slower pace than in the period from September to January. (We’ve given the January jobs to both Trump and Barack Obama here, since each was president for part of the month.)
The January-to-May pace is slightly higher than last year over the same period, but the monthly average for 2017 (+162,000 jobs a month) is lower than the monthly average for 2016 (+187,000).
“High business enthusiasm.” One of the immediate effects of Trump’s election last year was a surge in economic confidence, as measured by Gallup.
Why? Because Republicans flipped their positions.
This is different than “business enthusiasm,” but it’s not clear what measure Trump might be using in that regard.
” … massive regulation cuts”. Trump signed an executive order demanding cuts to regulations, though that doesn’t appear to have had much of an effect yet, if any at all. He also signed into law more than a dozen measures that rolled back regulations added at the tail end of Obama’s second term. The effects of these reductions isn’t yet obvious. Again, though, notice that the first three accomplishments Trump mentions focus on creating a move favorable space for the business community, with the eventual hope that more jobs will result.
“36 new legislative bills signed.” This is a total that excludes a few ceremonial items (naming federal buildings, for example). It does, however, include the 14 measures mentioned above that repealed Obama regulations.
That Trump’s signed 36 new legislative bills is the most since Carter, but the bills aren’t necessarily terribly significant. One measure shared with The Post by GovTrack reveals that: By early June 2009, Obama had signed into law 1,766 pages of legislation. By contrast, Trump has signed fewer than 900.
“Great new Justice”. Trump frequently mentions the confirmation of Neil M. Gorsuch, the first justice in a president’s first 100 days in decades. There’s a reason for that, of course: Republicans in the Senate blocked Obama’s attempt to fill the slot for nearly all of 2016.
“Infrastructure, Healthcare and Tax Cuts in works!” That Trump signed mostly insignificant legislation so far should be considered in the context of control of Congress. Republicans, as noted above, have full control of the House and a majority in the Senate.
Trump followed up those two tweets explaining his success with this one, which he apparently felt showed that his success was being rewarded.
FiveThirtyEight made a chart that demonstrates how the Rasmussen poll is an outlier among outliers.
Rasmussen focuses on likely voters, a subset of Americans that tends to skew more Republican (since Republicans are more regular voters). Other polls show Trump’s approval numbers much lower than the 50 percent offered by Rasmussen, though both Rasmussen and other pollsters show a slow decline over time.
It’s not clear what Trump means when he says that the figure is “higher than [Obama]’s.”Obama’s last approval figure from Rasmussen was 62 percent approval.
One possibility is that he means Obama’s overall average in Rasmussen polling over his eight years. That figure was 48.4 percent.
But Trump’s average has been 48.1 percent in Rasmussen polling. So Trump’s average is lower than Obama’s — even from a Republican-leaning pollster.
No wonder Karen Handel isn’t rushing to embrace his support.