On Sunday, in the midst of a self-proclaimed working vacation, President Trump took to Twitter to insist his many accomplishments in his first 6 months in office were being overlooked by the media.
Here’s the tweet: “The Fake News refuses to report the success of the first 6 months: S.C., surging economy & jobs, border & military security,ISIS & MS-13 etc.”
Let’s set aside for a moment the specious claim that the media has not reported on these issues. It has. (Here are but one post each on the Supreme Court, the economy and jobs, border and military security and ISIS and MS-13.)
But given his allegation, I thought it made sense to run through each of his claims of success – providing context and some sense of how much (or little) he’s actually accomplished. Below I break down each claim in the order Trump touted them.
Here we go!
* Supreme Court
This is an unmitigated success for Trump. His nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was widely touted by conservatives. And, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to change the Senate rules to get Gorsuch confirmed – after Harry Reid had done the same thing for lower court justices a few years back – Gorsuch is currently sitting on the Court. And at 49, he will likely be there for a long time. (Trump’s success here also got an assist from McConnell for refusing to hold a hearing for Barack Obama’s nominee to fill that seat.)
RULING: Trump success.
* “Surging economy & jobs”
Let’s take the second part first, since it’s easier to quantify.
In July, the U.S. economy created 209,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since January, the economy has created 1,290,000 jobs. (That includes all of January despite the fact Trump has only been president since Jan. 20.) By comparison, in the first 7 months of 2016, 1,372,000 jobs were created.
It’s tougher to agree on objective measures as to whether the economy is “surging.” Trump is likely referring here to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which crested 22,000 for the first time ever last week. There’s no question that Trump’s election – and the sense among much of the corporate world that he will be better for them than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton – has played a role in the stock mart surge. Check out this chart detailing the surge via the good folks at CNN Money:
Aside from the stock market, the other most-referenced sign of the strength of an economy is Gross Domestic Product – essentially a measure of all of the value being created by a country. As of the end of last month, GDP grew at an annual rate of 2.6% in the second quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Commerce Department. That was an increase on the 1.2% annual growth in the first quarter of the year.
For context, here’s the annual GDP growth rate for the last 5 years, starting with 2016: 1.5%, 2.9%, 2.6%, 1.7%, 2.2%. The average GDP in the first two quarters of 2017 is 1.9%. If that’s where it ends up, 2017 will be right in the middle of GDP growth rates over the past six years. (There is, of course, the possibility GDP growth will speed or slow considerably in the coming months.) Trump’s more ambitious goal and promise is to get the country to 4% annual growth rate.
So, to claim the economy and jobs are “surging” is somewhat misleading, although there’s no question the stock market is booming – and has been since Trump took office.
RULING: Partial Trump success
* “Border & military security”
The most common way to measure border security is by how many “inadmissibles” – people who are trying to enter the country but lack the legal status to do so – are apprehended at the border. According to Customs and Border Protection stats, there have been 414,241 “enforcement actions” so far in 2017 as compared to 690,637 in 2016 and 592,459 in 2015. Obviously those are not apples to apples comparisons due to the fact that the 2017 numbers are only through June 3. But, extrapolating outward would suggest more “inadmissibles” will be turned around in 2017 than in the previous two years. Along the southwestern border, the US Border Patrol estimates that apprehensions have increased by 37% over 2016.
It’s much harder to know what Trump means when he says “military security.” Does he mean the safety of military bases in the US and around the world? Does he mean security for military families in terms of benefits? Does he mean spending on defense initiatives to ensure our military have all the resources they need? He doesn’t make it clear. So, I’m not going to try to read his mind; this part of Trump’s claim gets a “not available” since we can’t put data to a term we don’t even really know. Trump did propose an increase in defense spending, but Congress proposed an even larger one. No agreement has been reached on defense spending for 2018.
RULING: Trump success on border security; unclear on military
* “ISIS & MS-13”
The battle against ISIS may be the hardest thing to measure of any of the successes Trump tweeted about. Why? Because there are all sorts of different organizations that use all sorts of different measures to assess the status of the fight against ISIS. On Friday, Brett McGurk, who heads up the anti-ISIS efforts within the State Department claimed that one-third of all the land reclaimed from ISIS since 2014 has been done since Trump took office. McGurk said that ISIS since its apex has lost 27,000 square miles – 8,000 of which have been taken back during the Trump administration by ground forces primarily comprised of Iraqi, Kurdish and other local forces. Other sources suggest the gains have been less dramatic.
Airwars, a non-profit website that tabulates strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, documents that strikes have increased since Trump came into office; in July there were 947 strikes in Syria and 223 in Iraq. Of course, more strikes doesn’t necessarily equal more success.
On MS-13, again, it’s difficult to find conclusive numbers. Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to El Salvador last month to better coordinate efforts to crack down on the violent gang. That same month, 17 members of MS-13 were arrested for 12 murders – among other charges – in Long Island. Some members of MS-13, however, argue that Trump’s policies are actually making the gang stronger because witnesses to crimes are less willing to come forward for fear of being deported. All of this is anecdotal.
RULING: Trump is broadly right about success against ISIS; too soon to know about MS-13