Pacing the stage at a rally for Roy Moore in Alabama on Monday evening, punctuating his points with darting gestures and sweeping excoriations of the media, Breitbart’s Stephen K. Bannon presented to the audience the components of Trump’s first-year successes. This, he dubbed the “Trump Miracle” — an unsubtle pitch to the heavily evangelical voters of the Bible Belt state.
There were several categories in which Trump’s miraculous success — Bannon literally called it a “true miracle” — had been manifested.
“It comes in three things: our sovereignty, our economy and our national security,” he said. “Exactly what he promised on the campaign trail.” Bannon then detailed a point of evidence or two for each of those categories.
At the risk of being blasphemous, let’s assess the claims.
“Look what President Trump’s delivered. On our sovereignty — what is it, 46 years, the lowest illegal alien crossings across the southern border? He stopped mass illegal immigration. The No. 1 beneficiary of that is the Hispanic and black working class because they don’t have to compete with illegal alien labor.”
That point is correct. Data released this month by the Department of Homeland Security showed that the number of apprehensions at the border was lower than at any point since 1971.
It’s worth noting, though, that the number of apprehensions in both 2011 and 2015 were similarly under 360,000. The stark decline in apprehensions began under President George W. Bush.
It’s also worth noting that a report released in 2016 found that immigrants mostly don’t take jobs from American workers, black, Hispanic or otherwise. Where jobs were more likely to be lost was in populations of previous generations of immigrants. That discussion, though, led Bannon to his next point of pride.
“Look what economic nationalism has done: 3.3 percent growth already. The New York Fed says the fourth quarter’s going to have 3.9 growth. It’s the highest projection they’ve ever had with this modeling. We’ve got the lowest unemployment in 17 years. The lowest black unemployment in 17 years. Hispanic unemployment is 4.7 percent, I don’t think it’s ever been that low.”
“Forty-thousand manufacturing jobs created in November. Two-million jobs overall. American jobs for American workers.”
It’s true that GDP growth in the third quarter was 3.3 percent. It’s also true that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s “Nowcast” estimates that fourth-quarter growth will be at 3.9 percent — though the Fed only started doing this modeling last year.
The broader question, as with that drop in border apprehensions, is how much of the change is a function of a miracle-working Trump and how much that credit might be shared.
Take unemployment. The unemployment rate among Hispanics is as low as it’s ever been, that’s true. But that didn’t suddenly happen in 2017 after being at record highs.
Trump largely inherited employment trends that began in 2010, well before he was president. While Americans increasingly credit Trump with the positive effects of the economy, a November poll from Quinnipiac University found that most still think Barack Obama is the responsible party.
Bannon’s jobs numbers, meanwhile, are a bit inflated. The country added about 31,000 manufacturing jobs in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall this year, the country’s added 159,000 manufacturing jobs — the second-most since 1997. (2014 saw more.) The country added fewer than 2 million jobs, to date in 2017, fewer than any year since the recession save 2010 and 2012.
Bannon went on.
“Economic nationalism has us at 3.9 percent growth,” he said. “The tax cut’s going to be an accelerant. We’re going to see growth like you’ve never seen before.”
That 3.9 percent number, again, is just a projection. Bannon’s projection on growth is also questionable, because the economy is already performing near its potential economic output. Nonpartisan analysis of the tax bill thinks it can overperform that potential — but not by a whole lot.
Bannon, referring to the Islamic State by the acronym ISIS:
“In 10 months he destroyed the physical caliphate of ISIS. … This was not Obama’s plan. Gen. Mattis and President Trump said we’re going to physically destroy the caliphate of ISIS.”
On this point, Bannon has a more robust argument.
In August, the State Department’s Brett McGurk — a holdover from the Obama administration — stated that territorial gains against the Islamic State had “dramatically increased” under Trump’s tenure. From the group’s largest point in 2015, it had lost 27,000 square miles, 19,000 of it from early 2015 to the beginning of this year and 8,000 from the beginning of this year to August.
Since then, the Islamic State’s position has weakened further, with Iraq announcing this week — as Bannon pointed out — that the group had been eradicated within its borders.
Trump’s former adviser made another claim regarding national security that’s a bit tangential.
“Go back to Jan. 20 to the inauguration,” Bannon said. “He had a phrase in there, he wrote down at Mar-a-Lago: ‘We will rejuvenate old alliances and create new ones. And we will unite the civilized world to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth.’ ”
Twice, Bannon mentioned that Trump had written the speech. The Wall Street Journal reported shortly afterward, though, that two Trump aides had written most of it: Stephen Miller and … Stephen K. Bannon.
It’s clear that Bannon sees in Trump a new approach to leadership in the United States. His case that America has itself miraculously reoriented around the aspirations of its president, though, comes up fairly short.