Dean Obeidallah: Yes, of course, Trump has time to change things for the better. But can he?
Trump's most significant achievement may be his unintentional rebuilding of the Democratic Party, he says
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Donald Trump may just have achieved another first – but this isn’t one he will like. He may be on the verge of becoming the first president to be considered a “lame duck” within the first two months of his presidency.
If you define a “lame duck” president as someone who lacks the political capital to turn his ideas into policy, you might want to stick a fork in Trump because he’s done – at least for now.
In fact, what we saw Friday with Trump’s healthcare failure is possibly just the tip of the lame-duck iceberg. Think about this for a moment: Trump and the Republicans for years have repeated, “Repeal and replace Obamacare,” over and over to the point it was more than a mantra. It sounded like Hodor from “Game of Thrones,” who was capable of only saying his own name.
Yet here’s Trump just two months into his first term, failing to pass a piece of legislation that was one of the signature parts of his campaign despite his own party controlling Congress. Why? It’s not a mystery.
Congressional Republicans see exactly what the rest of us see, and they will not stick their necks out politically for an unpopular President who is embroiled in scandal.
First off, Trump’s approval ratings are awful. A Quinnipiac poll found on Wednesday that Trump has only a 37% approval rating. And as the poll notes, Trump’s now beginning to lose support among Republicans.
Second, on Monday FBI director James Comey confirmed that US intelligence agencies are investigating possible ties between “individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government” in connection to Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and “hurt our democracy.” Who knows at this point where this scandal might lead?
If that wasn’t bad enough, a GOP civil war may be breaking out, with Trump trying to remove Paul Ryan from his role as House Speaker. On Saturday Trump tweeted, “Watch @JudgeJeanine on @FoxNews tonight at 9:00 P.M.” So what bombshell did Jeanine Pirro deliver Saturday on her show? She called on Ryan to step down.
On Sunday morning Trump’s chief of Staff Reince Priebus claimed Trump’s tweet was a “coincidence,” denying Trump wants Ryan to step down. But Trump himself has been uncharacteristically silent. And Trump-loving Breitbart.com is reporting that discussions are under way to remove Ryan.
Yes, of course, Trump has time to change things for the better. But can Trump turn things around?
Obviously other presidents have had low approval ratings like Trump’s and rebounded. But none of them were being investigated by the FBI for possibly colluding with Russia while facing a possible civil war within their own political party.
And there’s one other big difference. Those other presidents had terrible approval numbers because they were presiding over a bad economy. For example, Ronald Reagan’s lowest approval rating was 35% in January 1982, when the economy was struggling and unemployment was at its highest levels of his presidency at 10.4%. But as the economy improved, so did Reagan’s approval numbers, ultimately climbing to a high of 68% in May 1986.
Same for Bill Clinton. He had a very Trump-like 37% approval rating in June 1993 when we were in the throes of a recession. Unemployment then was over 7%, the highest of his administration. Flash forward to December 1998. Unemployment was down to 4.4% and in turn Clinton’s approval rating hit 73%, his highest ever – and that was with an impeachment threat looming.
Trump, however, inherited an economy that is in good shape. Unemployment is at only 4.7%, the stock market is breaking records and consumer confidence is at a 15-year high. Sure, wages could be higher, as could the labor participation rate, but Trump certainly isn’t in the same boat as Reagan or Clinton were when they were this unpopular.
Trump should read his unpopularity as a cautionary tale, as both Clinton and Reagan lost dozens of seats in the midterm elections that took place when they had approval ratings close to where Trump’s is today. In 1982, the GOP lost 26 House seats. In 1994, the Republicans took control of the House with a whopping gain of 54 seats. For context, in 2018 Democrats only need to win 24 seats to regain the House.
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Technically, Trump could turn things around, but I doubt he will. Why? Simple. Trump told Time magazine this week that he has no plans to change, boasting that he follows his instincts and they are usually right. Trump then added in typical Trump fashion, “I guess I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m President, and you’re not.”
Trump is correct, he is the President. But here’s what Trump left out: He’s a rare, orange-feathered lame duck President whose most significant achievement may turn out to be his unintentional rebuilding of the Democratic Party.