Mick Mulvaney suggested Republicans would fare better if they could “subtract” the president’s divisive persona from voters’ minds, and stress instead that the country is in a “pretty good” condition.
That’s from a New York Times piece published last week that documents what OMB Director Mulvaney and RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told party officials and donors at a closed-door event in New York on Saturday, while discussing the midterm elections.
According to an audio recording the Times got their hands on, Mulvaney said this:
You may hate the president, and there’s a lot of people who do, but they certainly like the way the country is going. If you figure out a way to subtract from that equation how they feel about the president, the numbers go up dramatically.
That highlights the pitfalls of allowing an entire political party to morph into a personality cult. That’s an inherently dangerous proposition on its own, and when you throw in the fact that the personality in question (Trump) has built his political career around a strategy that hinges almost entirely on polarizing the electorate, your party lives and dies by the cult leader’s ability to marshal enough religious fervor among his or her base to offset lost support from whatever moderate voters you might have lost along the way.
For the GOP in 2018, this is complicated immeasurably by the fact that Trump, his family and associates are together the subject of wide-ranging federal and state criminal investigations and also by the fact that some of the President’s economic policies are wildly out of step with Republican orthodoxy. Additionally, Trump’s multiple (alleged) extramarital affairs and express penchant for “grabbin’ ’em by the p**sy” have likely eroded his support among at least some evangelicals, although that portion of the base has demonstrated a propensity to overlook the womanizing if it means having a President who pays lip service to Christianity at every possible opportunity.
In any event, political commentators have for months warned that the GOP will be more vulnerable than they otherwise would be in the midterms thanks to the party’s metamorphosis into the “Cult of the Donald”. Trump’s one-sided war of words with the Koch brothers doesn’t help.
As the dark legal clouds continue to gather over the White House and as journalists continue to paint a picture of a presidency in turmoil, Republicans are at pains to convince voters that what they should be focusing on is the economy, and not the orange man behind the curtain.
Thanks in no small part to Trump’s deficit-funded stimulus, the U.S. economy continues to fire on all cylinders. Although you can always cherry-pick the data for something negative, the overall picture is one of an economy that’s been turbocharged by tax cuts and deregulation. Whether it’s labor market data, manufacturing surveys or sentiment indicators, the story is the same: The U.S. economy is doing well, although you should always – always – bear in mind that Trump’s characterization of the current pace of economic expansion as “amazing” and historically anomalous is quite simply false, and laughably so.
But when it comes to voters, Trump’s caustic style, erratic behavior and the President’s ongoing legal trials and tribulations (and “trials” can be taken literally at this point when it comes to some Trump campaign officials), seemingly outweigh the economic positives. Or at least according to poll data. Here’s the State of the Economy index from Bloomberg’s Weekly Consumer Comfort survey:
Clearly, folks are feeling pretty good about things. But have a look at this:
Something’s not quite right here. Trump’s approval rating (white line) is falling and his disapproval rating is rising (blue line), despite still buoyant economic data.
Of course Trump’s divisive rhetoric and efforts to polarize the country are readily apparent in the survey data. For instance, the following chart shows the difference between Democrats’ and Republicans’ sentiment as measured by the above-mentioned Bloomberg Consumer Comfort survey. Readings above zero indicate Democrats are feeling more confident than Republicans, while readings below zero indicate the opposite:
At least based on this measure, the country is more politically divided than ever.
The bottom line here for the GOP is precisely what Mick Mulvaney said last week: Namely that Republicans need to figure out a way to convince voters to stop focusing on Trump and start focusing on the economy.
Needless to say, that’s difficult because Trump insists on making himself the center of attention at every possible opportunity, even if that means purposefully creating negative publicity.
There’s one other possibility here. It could be that voters are starting to understand that i) Trump only deserves credit for some of the economic data, not all of it as he variously claims, ii) his claims are exaggerated and in some cases represent outright lies, or most importantly iii) the gains are likely to prove ephemeral and could be a long-term negative for America given that the late-cycle stimulus push was financed by debt.
Whatever the case, the GOP is going to face an uphill battle into the midterms when it comes to convincing America to ignore Trump, who absolutely does not want to be ignored.
Perhaps the best strategy would be for Republicans to politely ask that he not hold any more MAGA rallies between now and November and just let the economic data speak for him.