Power Up: Trump may still be a historical underdog for reelection


Cook, in the book’s introduction, mildly debunks the growing fear among some Democrats and fellow pundits that Trump is favored to win reelection. Nevermind the Tom Friedman columns of the world, the bed-wetting over the Democratic Party’s leftward lurch and the assumption that Trump’s incumbency advantage is simply too great to overcome.

Cook argues that Trump has a number of structural and historical challenges that are “at least as great as those faced by any of those eight previous elected presidents seeking reelection in the post-World War II-era.” 

1. The Hillary Factor: Cook points out the two major party nominees in 2016 — Trump and Hillary Clinton — had unparalleled unfavorable ratings. It’s unlikely this scenario will repeat itself in 2020, regardless of who is the Democratic nominee next year.

  • “Americans were presented a choice between a Republican nominee with the highest unfavorable ratings in exit poll history at 60 percent, against a Democratic nominee with the highest unfavorable ratings, 54 percent, of any nominee of her party. And who might have guessed that among the 18 percent of voters who told exit pollsters that they had unfavorable views of both Clinton and Trump, that they would end up voting for Trump by a 17-point margin, 47 to 30 percent?” Cook writes. 

2. Trump’s approval ratings — or lack thereof: Trump’s presidential job approval ratings “have trailed not just those of the six [incumbent presidents] who were successful, but in many ways, the two that didn’t win re-election,” according to Cook. Trump’s approval rating has not only been consistently low since taking office but his disapproval rating has also run exceedingly high and is backed by a signature intensity.  

  • “In the two years of weekly Gallup tracking in 2017 and 2018 and monthly since the start of 2019, Trump has not only never had a job approval rating of 50 percent or higher, as every other president had, as of the end of May 2019 it had never exceeded 46 percent. He has averaged 40 percent since taking office, and his disapprovals consistently have run higher than his approvals, a situation pollsters refer to as ‘upside down,’ or ‘underwater.’”
  • Trump’s numbers are also relatively fixed: “When the news is good, Trump’s numbers move up very little, when the news is bad, they don’t go down much either,” Cook writes, signifying the high degree off ultra-partisanship that currently exists. 

3. The electoral college: 2016 marked the first time in 140 years that a candidate won the popular vote by two points or more but lost the electoral college. It’s unlikely that Trump will be able to repeat such a feat, Cook argues.

  • Looking back: “Just two of the 58 presidential elections have had a candidate win the popular vote by two or more percentage points, but lose the electoral college,” Cook writes. 

4. Unforced errors: It’s unlikely the eventual Democratic nominee will make the same mistakes fumbled by the Clinton campaign in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign.  

  • Clinton was the first major party nominee since 1972 to not set foot in the state of Wisconsin, then unexpectedly lost the state by seven-tenths of a point.”

The Big 20 Percent Question: Cook’s examination of national polling shows that roughly 35 percent of the vote is squarely in the Trump camp versus 45 percent of the vote that is solidly in the opposition corner. 

  • “Trump could find a cure for both cancer and the common cold, ensure peace and tranquility for eternity and eliminate all unemployment and this 45 percent would remain militantly opposed,” per Cook. 

This leaves 20 percent of the vote up for grabs, which means that in order to win the election “Trump would still need to win between two-thirds and three-quarters of that 20 percent to stay within three points of a Democrat, a pretty tall order,” Cook calculates. 

  • This is no easy task for Trump: “While he has perfected the art of talking to his base of support, he seems unwilling or unable to reach or even talk to those beyond that base, those situated between his core support and the opposition camp. When U.S. unemployment hit a 49-year low in April 2019, Trump’s approval rating barely moved.” 

Still: Trump is the incumbent, the economy is in pretty good shape and there’s a major Democratic fight underway that may or may not hurt that party in its efforts to oust the president from the White House. But Cook makes a pretty compelling case that history — which he notes reasserted itself with Democratic gains in the House in the 2018 midterms — shouldn’t be overlooked as we gear up for the fight.

In the Agencies

SHAKE-UP AT TOP OF INTEL: “President Trump said in a tweet Thursday that he will name Joseph Maguire, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as the acting director of national intelligence, following his aborted effort to install a political loyalist,” our colleagues Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima report. Remember: This comes after Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) withdrew his nomination for the post, facing bipartisan opposition.

  • Who is he? “Maguire is a retired Navy admiral not steeped in the inner workings of the intelligence community, but his appointment was seen as steadying in the middle of a tumultuous shake-up in the top ranks of the country’s spy agencies.” 
  • But intel officials were relieved: “He’s not a career intelligence officer, but he does understand the role that the men and women of the intelligence community play and will represent them well,” one former senior intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid told Shane and Ellen.
  • Meanwhile, Dan Coats’s deputy director is out: Trump also announced Sue Gordon will be leaving. “
  • More: “Democratic and Republican lawmakers had said they wanted Gordon, a career intelligence official, to fill in for Coats. But Trump was reluctant to keep someone with whom he had never formed a close bond. The president and his aides also regarded her as a career official and consequently suspicious, according to officials with knowledge of the president’s views,” Shane and Ellen report.

Outside the Beltway

MULTIPLE 2020 DEMS CALL TRUMP A ‘WHITE SUPREMACIST’: At least five Democratic presidential candidates have dubbed Trump a “white supremacist,” criticizing the president’s rhetoric after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. But both former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) refused to go that far, our colleagues John Wagner and Colby Itkowitz report. “The candidates gave their assessment only after being asked whether they believe the president is a ‘white supremacist.'”

  • The five: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and financier Tom Steyer have all called the president a “white supremacist” in the wake of the shooting.
  • Biden stopped just short of joining in: “I believe everything the president says and does encourages white supremacists,” Biden said after he spoke at the Iowa State Fair. “And I’m not sure there’s much of a distinction — as a matter of fact, it may even be worse. In fact, if you’re out there trying to, in fact, curry the favor of white supremacists or any group, in fact, is anathema to everything we believe.” 
  • But the former VP grew agitated when pressed again later:

  • Harris said Trump should be asked the question himself: “There’s no question that his words and his language while he was running for office and since he’s been in office of president of the United States has been about condoning the conduct of white supremacists, so I think it’s a fair conversation that’s happening,” said Harris, one of two black candidates in the Democatic race.

More from the candidates: 

  • Warren expanded on her belief: “He has given aid and comfort to white supremacists,” Warren said during a campaign swing in western Iowa, the New York Times’s Thomas Kaplan reports. “He’s done the wink and a nod. He has talked about white supremacists as fine people. He’s done everything he can to stir up racial conflict and hatred in this country.”
  • O’Rourke cited similar themes as well: ““He is. He has made that very clear,” O’Rourke told MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace. “He dehumanized those who do not look and pray like the majority of people here. He said I wish we had more immigrants from Nordic countries because those from Haiti bring AIDS, those from Africa are shithole nations.”
  • Trump has repeatedly denied that he is a racist: “I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate. I don’t like it. Any group of hate whether it is white supremacy, whether it is any other kind of supremacy, whether it is Antifa, whether it is any group of hate. I am very concerned about it, and I am going to do something about it,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday.

On The Hill

MCCONNELL SAYS SENATE MAY TAKE ACTION ON GUN LEGISLATION: This could be a big deal if it actually happens. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday he spoke to [Trump] about the Senate working on legislation to tighten the nation’s gun laws after the August recess, as both men face heightened public pressure to do something about gun violence following last weekend’s two mass shootings,” our colleague Colby reports.

What’s on the table: McConnell “specifically mentioned expanding background checks on gun purchases and ‘red-flag’ laws, which would allow authorities to confiscate a firearm from someone deemed a risk to themselves or the public,” Colby writes. Our colleagues Peter Jamison and Peter Hermann reported on how those red-flag laws have mixed results.

  • Key quote: “What we can’t do is fail to pass something, you know, by just locking up and failing to pass — that’s unacceptable,” McConnell said. “What I want to see here is an outcome, not a bunch of partisan back-and-forth, these shots across the bow.”
  • An assault weapon ban?: McConnell said a renewal of the ’90s-era ban that expired in 2004 could also be part of the conversation. As our colleague Seung Min Kim points out, Democrats are increasingly rethinking the issue. But such a proposal seems unlikely to attract a majority of Senate Republicans and would be vigorously opposed by groups like the NRA.

What Trump is doing: The president separately spoke with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday. “The President gave us his assurances that he would review the bipartisan House-passed legislation and understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives,” the duo said in a statement.

  • The House has acted: The speaker is pushing the Senate to consider a pair of background check bills, which combined garnered just 11 Republican votes. She is also lobbying the Senate to return from August recess to vote now, but McConnell specifically ruled that out.

What the NRA is up to: “Trump has spoken to National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre at least three times since the shootings and has been telling people he can get the NRA on board with something, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations,” Colby writes. 

The People

BIDEN SLIPS IN IOWA: Oops. “Joe Biden told a group of mostly Asian and Hispanic voters Wednesday that ‘poor kids are just as bright’ as white children,” Bloomberg’s Emma Kinery reports

  • The context: “The former vice president, who is known for verbal gaffes, made the remarks to the Asian & Latino Coalition in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is on a four-day campaign swing for the Democratic presidential nomination.”
  • Here’s his full quote: “We should challenge students in these schools and have advanced placement programs in these schools,” Biden said. “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright, just as talented, as white kids.” He quickly added, “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no I really mean it, but think how we think about it.”
  • Trump’s rapid response team wasted no time in publicizing the gaffe.

In the Media


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