The day after the GOP-led Senate acquitted him, Donald Trump held a White House rally packed with all his besties and sycophants to assure Americans he was even crazier than they had remembered. Still seething from the visible shredding of his speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the body blow of being the only president in history to draw a bipartisan conviction vote, Trump vomited venom for more than an hour, spewing words and phrases like, liars and leakers, scum, bullshit, sleazebag, phony, rotten, evil and sick.
By Friday, a newly emboldened Trump initiated his post-acquittal massacre, firing not only Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who provided impeachment testimony regarding his work on the White House National Security Council, but also Vindman's twin brother who similarly worked on the council and then Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who perhaps provided the most damning testimony that all of Trump's top advisors were "in the loop" on the Trump-Giuliani Ukraine scheme.
It's a scary moment for the country, especially as we watched Democrats devolve into mayhem following Monday's caucus. And far from learning some sort of "lesson" from the whole impeachment episode that would rein him in, Trump learned that Senate Republicans were too cowardly to ever provide a check on him. He was now unbridled and free to act on his every impulse without any fear of consequence.
Worse yet, the media got hung up on one Gallup poll showing Trump at 49% job approval and I'll be damned if that number wasn't bandied about as the absolute truth all week. Between acquittal, that singular poll, and higher job creation than anticipated in January (225,000 jobs v. 158,000 expected), many political analysts declared this one of the best weeks of Trump's presidency.
Not to worry. Trump is already stepping on his coattails with his unhinged rally and campaign of retribution. Instead of basking in the glow of turning the page, letting bygones be bygones, and making a renewed call for unity, Trump is responding like the grievance-ridden, petulant child he always proves to be. Once more, the polling pundits latched onto that's surely pushing Trump to feel especially emboldened is most likely an inflated outlier. His unusually high approval (still low by most standards) is likely being driven by a phenomenon that happens when one party or certain voters suddenly feel enthused, making them more open to talking to pollsters and telling them how they feel.
As researchers at Columbia University write, "Some of that shift can be explained by differential nonresponse: more Republicans and fewer Democrats answering the poll. This explanation for the change is not mentioned in the Gallup report, but we can read between the lines and see it." In fact, you can actually see that differential based on the variation in trend lines between phone polling right now (in gold below) and online polling (in blue), which tends to be a more stable representation of shifting attitudes over time.
Flagging this again: We're seeing very large differences in Trump's approval ratings by poll mode right now Ã¢Â�Â� perhaps the biggest of his presidency so far. We have some suggestive evidence that partisan non-response bias is artificially inflating his numbers in some phone polls. pic.twitter.com/H89RFXn47s— G. Elliott Morris (@gelliottmorris) February 5, 2020
It also possible that as we head into an election year, some Republicans are simply starting to come home in the run up to November. Whatever the case, the Trump bump doesn't seem tied to any real appreciation in his standing with most voters. His cultists just appear to be ecstatic at the moment. They really do love those vendetta rallies. ;)
But as Democrats eye November, it's important to be clear-eyed about the over-hyped economy and the very real way in which it's failing the vast majority of Americans. First, it's true that Obama's last three years of job growth all beat Trump's best year so far. And while perception matters, actual pocket books matter a lot more. As Annie Linskey reported this week in a must-read piece for The Atlantic, "Beyond the headline economic numbers, a multifarious and strangely invisible economic crisis metastasized: Let’s call it the Great Affordability Crisis."
Linskey notes that what Americans are earning only tells half the story. What they had to spend of those earnings is both the other half of the story and arguably the most important part.
In one of the best decades the American economy has ever recorded, families were bled dry by landlords, hospital administrators, university bursars, and child-care centers. For millions, a roaring economy felt precarious or downright terrible. ... Fully one in three households is classified as “financially fragile.”
This is the crux of the matter. No matter what the statistics on the stock market, job creation, or even wage growth suggest, many Americans are still struggling mightily. The average American isn't necessarily experiencing a moment of glorious expansion, instead they're slogging through a wilderness of anxiety producing unknowns.
That truth, as unfortunate as it is, leaves plenty of room for Democrats to reach voters where they actually are and make a more reality-based case for boosting the fortunes of both working- and middle-class Americans to a brighter and more inclusive future.