Anyone who claims to know whether impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump will move the public opinion needle one way or the other should check that assumption at the door. We’re witnessing a first here: No president running for re-election has ever done so under the cloud of possible removal from office. Not Andrew Johnson, who was never elected president in the first place. Not Richard Nixon and not Bill Clinton, both of whom had been safely re-elected before running into their impeachment buzzsaws.
Follow the money, the saying goes, and one early sign that impeachment may be helping Trump is the $3.1 million his campaign says it raked in during the first 24 hours after TV hearings began. For the year, the campaign has received about $66 million, and more, much more, will follow. It’s a clear sign that the Trump base is energized and angry. You can be sure that this cash will quickly be deployed into key states that Trump won in 2016 and which will make him or break him a year from now: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Battlegrounds headed for trouble
But here’s something else that could make or break Trump a year from now: an economic downturn in each of those states over the next few months. Analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia says that’s exactly what will happen in 2020. What that could do to the president’s razor-thin margins — he won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes — is a tantalizing question. But Ohio, usually seen as a bellwether, may be out of reach, given that Trump won comfortably there in 2016 by 8 points.
Incidentally, the Fed says the economies of three other states will shrink next year too, but from an Electoral College standpoint, they aren’t in play: West Virginia (five electoral votes) and Wyoming (three) are solidly in the red column while Rhode Island (four) is reliably blue.
These weakening state economies are not anomalies: The most recent data available shows the U.S. economy as a whole slowing to just 1.9%.
What’s funny here, in a gaslighting, hypocritical way, is that when the economy slowed to a 1.9% pace in the first quarter of 2012 — on President Barack Obama’s watch — Trump, then hosting a TV reality show, tweeted that the economy was in “deep trouble.” But now that the economy has slowed to 1.9% on his watch? He wants you to know that the “Economy is BOOMING!”
I get it. We’re in the dumpster when it’s 1.9% on the other guy’s watch but on easy street when it’s 1.9% on mine. That clears it up!
View from a farmer: I won’t vote for Trump again without an end to high tariffs, trade war with China
Why is the economy in “deep trouble?” Where to begin?
For starters, farmers have been hammered by his trade war with China. It’s not the only reason for their woes, but with China, Trump took a solid export market and destroyed it — a big factor in the 24% increase in farm bankruptcies reported by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Among the worst hit states are Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which are key to a Trump re-election. Why would a farmer in such economic distress trust this guy with his or her vote?
Tax cuts haven’t helped most people
It should also be clear to anyone capable of objective thought that Trump’s tax cuts — as many predicted — haven’t helped the vast majority of Americans very much. In terms of percentage change in income, for example, the top one-fifth of taxpayers benefited more 1.8 times as much as the middle fifth, and more than seven times as much as the bottom fifth, according to a Bloomberg analysis of data from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “The rich will not be gaining at all with this plan,” the president lied back in 2017.
And what scraps Trump has tossed to the peasants (like those paper towels he tossed in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria) have been wiped out by his tariffs. Goldman Sachs says the cost of Trump’s tariffs has fallen entirely on U.S. businesses and households. JPMorgan Chase puts an actual dollar figure on it: up to $1,000 a year for the average household per year.
Got an extra grand lying around?
A public reckoning:Impeachment hearings are Democrats’ last, best chance to show how Trump endangers America
There’s much more on the economic front — the annual deficit has soared on Trump’s watch, and the nation’s cumulative debt could rise to $33 trillion in just a few years, for example. And a business spending pullback that was threatened last fall if the trade war continued has materialized and could be a drag on the economy, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
Anyone willing to set aside their partisan bias can examine all of this for themselves.
Impeachment may be first and foremost on the media’s mind, and Trump’s bullying of former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will only hurt him, particularly with suburban women who can’t stand his thuggish, misogynistic behavior. But I suspect a weakening economy, particularly in Rust Belt states that Trump barely won three years ago, could hurt him even more.
Paul Brandus, founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Reports, is the author of “Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency” and is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @WestWingReport