Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Japan-U.S. Foreign Policy Implications

Please join the Office of Global Engagement and the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research for a discussion on the future of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Professor Toshihiro Nakayama will present a keynote speech pertaining to his expertise on Japan-U.S. relations, followed by comments from Consul-General Midori Takeuchi, Ambassador Christopher Hill, and Professor Floyd Ciruli, as moderator, and a question and answer session.

Find Consul-General Takeuchi's bio here
Find Ambassador Hill's bio here
Find Professor Nakayama's bio here
Find Professor Ciruli's bio here

Thursday, March 14, 2019 

5:00 pm Reception- hors d’oeuvres and beverages
5:30 pm Introduction followed by Keynote speech by Prof. Nakayama
6:10 pm Panel comments
6:30 pm Q&A

Maglione Hall
Anna and John J. Sie International Relations Complex
2201 S. Gaylord Street
Denver, CO 80208

Note: Parking passes will be sent out prior to the event


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Trump’s Campaign in Full Start: He’s Behind, But has Assets

The midterm election loss of 40 seats and control of the House was a harsh judgement on President Trump, but his recent predecessors overcame midterm losses, some even more severe, with very solid re-elections. President Reagan crushed the Democratic 1984 nominee, Walter Mondale; Bill Clinton beat Gerald Ford’s 1976 VP Bob Dole 20 years later after a disastrous 1994 midterm; and Barack Obama recovered from a 63-seat “shellacking” in 2010 and went on to defeat Mitt Romney by 5 points two years later.

Trump’s circumstance is somewhat more perilous in that his Electoral College win was without a popular vote plurality and his approval ratings for his first two years have remained in a narrow range around 40 percent.

His policies have produced passionate opposition, usually above 50 percent, including among independents, and his personality and style give even many of his supporters pause. But, Trump has his assets, often demonstrated when things seem darkest. He’s pulled businesses out of insolvency at the last moment more than once; he has kept campaigning after incidents most people, including his party peers, thought were fatal; and most important, he has shown a relentless mean streak dedicated to winning at all costs.

The Assets

Economy. Trump believes, with good reason, his greatest asset is a good economy, especially focused on helping his base of blue collar workers. Recovering and up economies accompanied Reagan’s, Clinton’s and Obama’s second term wins.

Base. “I could shoot a person on 5th Avenue and get away with it” is still true. The base is with Trump regardless of his behavior. What’s left of the Republican Party after defections is 90 percent with Trump. Even if it’s only about 35 percent of the electorate, it’s his building block for re-election.

Campaign. The 2016 campaign was disorganized until mid-August (of course, we may never know the level of outside help), but the 2020 campaign will be well-funded and well-organized from the start. It may be superior to the Democrats on social media and targeting.

Allies. Commentators suggest Richard Nixon might not have been impeached if Fox News had been dominating cable news and Rush Limbaugh talk radio. Trump has both in his camp, along with social media, extoling his accomplishments, but more importantly, pouring vitriol on his competitors and critics.

Opposition. Possibly Trump’s greatest asset is the opposition, which he loves to attack, including Democratic candidates during the entire nomination process. Much of Trump’s appeal is that he’s politically incorrect and anti-establishment. He is a master at repositioning opponents as self-interested or hypocritical or extremist – open borders, kneeling football players and socialism. The Democratic opposition is convinced Trump is beatable. It has attracted a field of more than a dozen serious candidates. But, the party is struggling to find a candidate with sufficient character and charisma that can withstand Trump’s demeaning labels and vicious tweets.

The 2020 election is more likely to be a competitive state-by-state fight than a Democratic runaway. Although polls may show Democrats ahead, Trump, with his assets, will remain within striking distance.

Friday, February 22, 2019

“America First” is Toxic to Soft Power

Mike Pence just received a first-hand experience of the collapse of America’s reputation among allies at the annual Munich Security Conference when he offered the standard, “I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump,” and was met with deafening silence. It wasn’t the only rhetorical embarrassment the U.S. delegation received in Munich or at an earlier conference in Warsaw. The reviews from major editorials and news headlines were uniformly harsh:
  • “Pompeo and Pence Sent a Poor Message With Their Bumbling Tour of Europe” (editorial) (Washington Post, 2-16-17)
  •  “Deaf Ears in Europe” (Wall Street Journal, 2-17-19)
  • “Munich Security Conference: Transatlantic Differences Laid Bare at Annual Defense Powwow” (Politico, 2-17-19)
  • “Rift Between Trump and Europe is Now Open and Angry” (New York Times, 2-17-19)
  • “Angela Merkel Takes Direct Aim of Trump’s Go It Alone Policies” (Washington Post, 2-17-19)
  • “Vice President Pence Receives Awkward Silence in Munich After Offering ‘Greetings’ from President Trump” (Time, 2-17-19)
  • “Munich Security Conference Reveals Growing Rift Between U.S. and its Allies” (NPR, 26-16-19)
Europe’s leaders are reflecting their publics. After two years of “America First” policies and Donald Trump’s often hostile conference performances, America’s reputation is in tatters. The Country’s soft power, accumulated since the end of WWII, has been squandered.

The U.S. Has Lost European Public Opinion

Favorable views of the U.S. have declined dramatically with German and French publics since President Trump took office. Now, barely a third has favorable views, down more than 30 points from just two years ago.

“America First” Looks Like “America Alone”

The soft power of a nation – its ability to persuade – is often linked to the image of the primary leaders. The silence at the Munich Security Conference is also explained by the low opinion President Trump is held in by the publics of U.S. allies. Only 9 percent of the French, 10 percent of Germans, 7 percent of Spanish and 28 percent of the UK publics have “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Trump is trusted in Israel (69%).

Pew and other international pollsters cite several factors that are key in a country’s reputation:
  • How does the public perceive the U.S. is treating its own citizens?
  • Is the U.S. dealing with international problems?
  • Does the U.S. consider the other countries’ views?
The U.S. is failing in all three of these metrics in many western European countries and especially in Germany and France.

After numerous international meetings, especially with European leaders, the polite reserve of diplomacy is over. The U.S. and Donald Trump are hearing what our historic allies think. There will be policy repercussions as they begin to assert more resistance to our expectations of joint actions and cooperation, for example, on Iran, in Syria and having missiles in Europe.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Trump Couldn’t Just Accept the Deal, He Had to Break Another Norm

The fact that Donald Trump couldn’t accept a congressional compromise on a topic most voters are tired of shows his continued failure to learn that successful presidential politics is beyond just the base.
Donald Trump at a press conference at the White House,
Feb. 15, 2019 | Euronews

Although the wall, immigration and even shutdowns are popular with much of his base, that group now constitutes, at most, a third of the electorate, whether looking at aggregated registration data or polling self-description. In other words, having 90 percent of 30 percent is 27 percent of the total. A very modest start for an incumbent’s re-election, especially since many positions of the base are significantly out of alignment with the rest of the population.

After his State of the Union effort at repositioning as the more temperate, less caustic leader had at least stopped the hemorrhaging of support from the shutdown, he reverted Friday to conflict and another mega bizarre press conference. He is reinforcing his disruptive and authoritarian image, which produced much of the midterm reaction. And, he’s doing it for an issue that, after months of effort, he has failed to convince the public is an emergency (border security) or that it necessarily needs a wall.

I pointed out in a previous blog post, Trump has made some slight improvements in his approval ratings post SOTU, but seizing emergency power for the wall is opposed by voters 65 percent to 32 percent. A losing position, especially among independents. It also causes major tension with many Republican-elected officials who will find themselves needing to separate from the President for their own values and political self-interest.

The Buzz: Polls post SOTU and the Democratic field
The Buzz: The authoritarian presidency
FiveThirtyEight: Trump keeps doubling down on the same failed strategy

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Colorado Republican Party is Contracting

Rob Witwer changed his voter registration from Republican to unaffiliated. The former legislator was especially critical of the party’s performance in the 2018 legislative elections. He is a part of a major trend. The latest voter registration data confirms that both of Colorado’s political parties are losing to unaffiliated status among registered voters. The new century has been especially difficult for Republicans, dropping from the dominant party in 2000 with a 150,000 registration edge as George W. Bush carried the state, to a weak third place in January 2019.

Obviously, the midterm election confirmed registration trends in voter behavior, with a Democratic sweep from statewide offices, down to county commissioners, clerks, sheriffs and among many other very surprised incumbent officeholders. The Donald Trump Colorado Republican Party has a current ceiling of 43 percent. Walker Stapleton, the Republican candidate for governor, received 43 percent. The same as Trump in his presidential run in 2016.

The massive 2018 turnout, especially of unaffiliated voters, is an undeniable message to both parties – there will be few successful elections in Colorado without winning majorities of unaffiliated voters. And, although Colorado natives and the old guard can complain about outsiders moving here, many of the 2018 voters were, in fact, longtime residents motivated by Trump and the chance to send a message. But, new or old, expect them to return to the polls in 2020.

The challenges for Republican Party leaders and candidates was highlighted in new Republican voter poll reported in the Denver Post, which showed, in spite of their minority stature and midterm defeat, they wanted uncompromising conservatives (61%) as opposed to candidates that would reach across the aisle (33%). They approve President Trump by 90 percent, and they believe his emphasis on immigration is the same as theirs and shutdowns of government are justified. Neither position is shared by most voters, especially independents.

Although new Republican Party officials and aspiring candidates will come up with the tone and message to win legislative seats and counties where the party dominates, they will be immensely vulnerable in 2020 in more competitive seats. Democrats are likely to highlight Trump and those aspects of his personality and agenda that don’t appeal to a majority of Colorado voters.

Read Denver Post: Colorado Republicans back Trump’s border wall, cite immigration as top concern in poll

Friday, February 15, 2019

Dr. Harold Mendelsohn, RIP

Harold Mendelsohn,
May 26, 1967
Dr. Mendelsohn, a professor and researcher at the University of Denver for many decades, passed away at 95. He was an eminent sociologist and expert on polls and the media. His 1970s book with Irving Crespi, “Polls, Television and the New Politics,” is a classic still used today in classes. He led the professional association of pollsters, AAPOR, in the 1970s and held numerous administrative positions on the DU campus. Harold was a respected and sought after teacher.

Read obituary here
Read AAPOR memoriam here
See his Wikipedia biography here

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Denver Metro Area Economy Still Running Hot

The latest sales tax data from the Colorado State Department of Revenue shows 2018 produced a 5.38 percent jump in revenue in the seven-county Denver metro area over 2017.

One percent in regional sales tax would produce $630 million for RTD and a share of it for the region’s cities and counties. It will produce $63 million to be shared by the approximate 250 organizations of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Colorado Politics: Pro-Weed, Anti-TABOR, Colorado’s Major Trends Now are Political Power

Photo: Colorado Politics
In a February 11 column in Colorado Politics, Colorado’s major trends, including pro marijuana commercialization and hostility to hydrocarbons and the TABOR amendment, now have allies in power that will empower them. Expect major changes.

The political earthquake that rearranged the political plates in November is just beginning to have impact on Colorado’s policy and politics. The shake up brought new leaders, new constituencies and new social movements to power. Political changes are accelerating in Colorado, and the policy shifts now visible reflect powerful, longer-term trends that portend disruption of the status quo. Many of the trends are perennial ones; some have been visible for decades, but not ascendant; others are recent. The 2018 election brought them into the forefront. 

In a speech to the annual state convention of the Colorado Water Congress (CWC), I outlined what I consider the top trends driving Colorado politics in 2019.

Polls Post SOTU and the Democratic Field

Since October 2018, as the market began to decline, the midterm election rendered a judgment on President Trump’s first two years, and as more and more officials in the administration quit or were pushed out, the President’s approval ratings have followed, hitting their lows in late January at the conclusion of the shutdown. Negative spreads of up to 10 points, which were common, were replaced by low double-digits, jumping to 20 points in a few polls.

President Trump giving his State of the Union address, with Vice President
Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi in background, Feb. 5, 2019 | CNN photo

Trump is hoping his State of the Union speech is a reset for public perception and a potential start-up of his re-election. One can see why he was anxious to accept Speaker Pelosi’s invitation, whenever it came. It’s hard to beat the well of the House for gravitas and audience.

At least two post SOTU polls show Trump’s approval up and the negative spread diminished.

The Democratic field, as of March 1, shows name identification is still dominating early Democratic voters’ choices. The range of merging the latest national polls of 12 candidates runs from Joe Biden at 33 percent, to 1 percent for Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand. Near the top are Bernie Sanders; Kamala Harris, with her high-profile announcement; Beto O’Rourke, the charismatic outsider; and Elizabeth Warren, who has been running since 2016 and just announced.

Early hypothetical polls show nearly every Democratic candidate beats President Trump by 5 or more points. Trump’s support tends to equal his approval rating in the low 40 percent range and Democrats are in the mid to upper 40s. Even Rasmussen, Trump’s favorite pollster, puts Democrats in the early lead. Of course, it should be remembered that Hillary Clinton tended to lead in the polls from June to November 2016, but it was deceptive as to what would happen November 6.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Crossley Center Presents Japan’s Top Political Pundit: U.S.-Japan Alliance in Age of Trump. Will it Survive?

A lecture and panel on Japanese-American foreign policy in the Trump era will be conducted on March 14 at the Maglione Hall at DU’s Korbel School. The event is jointly sponsored by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the Korbel School, the Consulate-General of Japan in Denver and the Office of Global Engagement at DU.

Our guest, Professors Toshihiro Nakayama, is one of Japan’s most prominent political pundits, frequently appearing on national television and regular articles in national newspapers. Known to colleagues as Toshi, he is currently a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C.

Thursday, March 14, 2019
Program: 5-7 pm, followed by a reception
Maglione Hall
University of Denver Campus
Anna and John J. Sie International Relations Complex
2201 S. Gaylord St., Denver, CO

This event is FREE and open to the public
Food provided

Prof. Toshihiro Nakayama
TOSHIHIRO NAKAYAMA is a Professor of American Politics and Foreign Policy at the Faculty of Policy Management at Keio University. He is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. He was a Special Correspondent for the Washington Post at the Far Eastern Bureau (1993-94), Special Assistant at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations in New York (1996-98), and Senior Research Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs (2004-06). He was also a CNAPS Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution (2005-06). He received his M.A. (1993) and Ph.D. (2001) from Aoyama Gakuin University. He has written two books and numerous articles on American politics, foreign policy and international relations. He appears regularly on Japanese media. He writes a monthly column for Japan News.

Also part of the presentation and panel will be Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center; Ambassador Christopher Hill of DU’s Office of Global Engagement; and the Consul-General of Japan in Denver, Midori Takeuchi.


Denver Post: Construction Cranes Everywhere. Mayor’s Race as Referendum on Growth.

In a February 10 Sunday Prospective page commentary in the Denver Post the Mile High City’s exploding growth is the major topic framing the third term re-election effort of Mayor Michael Hancock and his challengers.
Cranes tower over new Riverview building under construction,
 March 3, 2017 | RJ Sangosti/DP

After a decade of slow growth through the bust and the Great Recession, Denver’s population growth since 2012 has exploded. In the last seven years, the city has grown by 100,000 residents and it’s noticeable on congested roads, in crowded restaurants, in gentrifying neighborhoods, and in cranes working overtime in the city’s development hotspots.

The upcoming Denver mayoral election on May 7, 2019, has become dramatized by tensions caused by urban growth. If Michael Hancock’s challengers force a runoff (a dozen candidates at last count), it will be largely because of the political disruption of Denver’s surging population boom.

See The Buzz: Growth and No Growth – Top Issues in Colorado

Monday, February 11, 2019

Race for U.S. Senate Starts – KOA 850

Both Democrats, anxious to win back the Colorado U.S. Senate seat they lost in 2014, and Cory Gardner, the Republican winner, are moving into full re-election mode. In an interview with April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz, the lead question was who’s the top Democratic candidate?

Hickenlooper, as of today, appears to be the Democrats’ strongest contender, but he’s commitment to a presidential race and hasn’t expressed any interest in the U.S. Senate contest. A key factor will be what Minority Leader Chuck Schumer recommends. Democrats believe the seat is their most likely pick up and they will spend considerable time testing the alternatives.

Democratic Primary

Democrats already have candidates in the field, including two with statewide track records. Andrew Romanoff, former State House Speaker, is back for a third time to win a congressional position. He lost a bitter interparty fight with Michael Bennet in 2010. Bennet is now in his second term. In 2014, Romanoff lost decisively a race for Congress against Mike Coffman.

Mike Johnston ran an aggressive primary campaign for governor in 2018 and raised prodigious amounts of money from out-of-state interests, especially those interested in public school reform. But, he came in third, and it’s not clear major elements of the party are any warmer toward him today.

Senator Gardner

Gardner is, of course, aware that he’s in one of the most vulnerable seats in the country and that he will be running with Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Trump got 43 percent in 2016, and polls at 40 percent approval or lower regularly in Colorado. Hence, Gardner must balance getting along with Trump and his hard core supporters, with shows of independence and bipartisanship needed to win moderate and especially independent-style Colorado voters.

Gardner is busy building his record of loyalty to Trump with an endorsement for a second term, while showing independence by joining five Republicans who voted for the Democratic proposal to reopen the government. Gardner, who has rapidly become part of the Republican senate leadership, still works closely with Bennet on Colorado-specific projects, such as public lands and marijuana.

Gardner’s best argument may be what put him over the top in 2014 running against Mark Udall. Colorado is most benefitted from having two effective senators, one in each party, especially the party controlling the Senate, a condition likely to continue in 2020.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Can Hickenlooper Make the First Debate?

Unless John Hickenlooper does a 180-degree turn, he will announce his campaign for president soon. Along with all the usual metrics of staffing, fundraising, local primary state endorsements and the ubiquitous polls, Hickenlooper’s greatest challenge may be staying viable to get on the stage at the first Democratic debate now scheduled in June.

As opposed to the schedule in 2015, which was arranged to limit exposure for Hillary Clinton’s competitors, especially Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, the 2019-20 rules are much more friendly to longshots, at least initially. Democrats will not use polls (or at least not primarily) to determine who gets on the stage or where they will stand. Of course, in a wide open format, with maybe more than a dozen candidates in multiple events, the challenge for the Democrats will be to hold an audience and for the candidates to stand out.

The Republican 2016 Debates

Republicans held a series of debates in 2015 and 2016 that greatly shaped the field and became a powerful forum, which Donald Trump used to his advantage. Polling dominated the process. It was used to select the top candidates for the prime time debate and a second debate for lower scoring candidates (the undercard).

As the picture of the first debate, sponsored by Fox News, on August 6 shows, polling numbers also placed the candidates on the stage. Trump, with his low double-digits polling results, got the middle spot, whereas Governors Chris Christie and John Kasich were placed somewhat precariously on the far right and far left, respectively. This was generally known as the Megyn Kelly debate due to the wild interaction between Kelly and Trump, which was a prelude to what would become a norm-defying and unprecedented primary season.

L to R) Christie, Rubio, Carson, Walker, Trump, Bush Huckabee,
Cruz, Paul and Kasich, August 6, 2015 | Fox News/Facebook

The Democratic Field

At least seven candidates have declared or started exploratory committees. Another 10 (or more) are considering a run or rumored to be seriously interested. That includes two from Colorado – John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet.

SCFD at the Capitol

With a giant eagle from Hawk Quest, a uniformed military troop from the Broomfield Veterans Museum and the Saint Martins Chamber Choir, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) brought its cultural supporters and grant recipients to the capitol to entertain and enlighten State Representatives. Governor Jared Polis joined more than 50 friends and supporters for the second SCFD Day at the Capitol. Also welcoming supporters, visitors and State Legislators was SCFD board chair, Jack Finlaw, and Deborah Jordy, the executive director.

Governor Jared Polis | SCFD photo
Young Voices of Colorado | SCFD photo

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Will Colorado Be a Super Tuesday Event in 2020? Democratic Race for the White House Underway.

Although Colorado has not established its presidential caucus date, if it follows the 2016 pattern, it will be March 3 Super Tuesday when a dozen or more states will hold caucuses and primaries.

The start-up of the 2020 nomination will begin as it has for decades with the caucus in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton won Iowa by less than a percentage point and lost the New Hampshire primary by 22 points. Her Iowa micro lead was still better than her last Iowa effort when she came in third behind Barack Obama and John Edwards in 2008.

Clinton recovered with wins in Nevada and South Carolina, and won eight states on the March 1 Super Tuesday event, with 12 states participating. Bernie Sanders won Colorado with 59 percent of the caucus participants.

Already nine states have indicated they will hold their delegate events on March 3 next year, including super delegate states California and Texas.

The Democratic National Convention will be in mid-July in Houston, Miami or Milwaukee (all three likely battleground states).

Trump Goes for National Emergency

President Trump’s wall funding demand is driving him toward declaring a national emergency. Unfortunately, as of the first week of February, at the moment of his rescheduled State of the Union speech, he has little support for the move.

New polling indicates that declaring a national emergency and using executive power are favored by only a third of the public. CBS reports a January 31 poll in which 66 percent of the public opposes Trump declaring “a national emergency to pay for the wall.” Only 34 percent support the national emergency move.

He has claimed border crossings with Mexico are a national emergency without much success with the public. He has claimed the wall is essential to national security, also without much support among the public. Although Senate Republicans support his wall funding, it’s without enthusiasm and with defections. They are in full revolt over the use of emergency power for such a contentious presidential initiative.

Unfortunately for Trump, his only other strategy – a shutdown – was a disaster when he declared he was happy to take responsibility for it to build the wall. After 35 days, he submitted to reopening the government as he lost public and Republican support. He is still smarting over that loss. He has made it clear he doesn’t approve of the congressional effort to find a compromise and, in fact, prefers his executive action approach. Trump’s actions will, of course, reinforce the arguments heard frequently that he really doesn’t have much “ability to make deals with Congress” (64% not much or no ability, CBS poll).

His embarrassment over the shutdown now has him attacking Nancy Pelosi directly as “being bad for the country,” a riff on his “enemy of the people” meme used when he’s not happy with news coverage. It’s not likely to help. Trump has lost credibility on the wall and support for a shutdown or an emergency declaration as a solution.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Florida 2020: Bad News for Maduro, Good News for Democracy

Donald Trump’s re-election is in trouble, with early polls showing more than 55 percent of voters saying they will “definitely not vote for him.” But, one state he knows he must have regardless of the early polls is Florida. And, the good news for Trump is that the midterm elections showed the GOP is very competitive in Florida. They won the governorship, defeated a three-term incumbent Democratic senator and have control of the state legislature. Exit polls and more recent polls show Trump’s approval higher in Florida than nationally.

But, Trump’s need to win Florida is bad news for Nicolás Maduro. More than 300,000 Venezuelans have escaped to Florida from the country’s political and economic collapse. Like the Cubans who escaped the island since the 1960s, especially in the early years, it can be assumed expats will appreciate the President and the party that resists their oppressor and advocates for the country’s return to democracy.

Besides Trump’s political motivation, the anti-Maduro effort has some high-profile advocates, who have long opposed Latin America’s socialism and dictatorship. Senator Marco Rubio has been a consistent advocate for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. National Security Advisor John Bolton and newly appointed Elliott Abrams as Special Envoy to Venezuela are strong advocates of the conservative viewpoint of Latin American politics.

Although there’s risk in the aggressive U.S. posture, it’s possible Maduro, his cronies and Cuban allies may be heading soon to their yachts and planes, sort of a reversal of January 1959 when Americans and Cubans opposed to Castro’s takeover motored out of Havana.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Trump Begins 2019 in Deep Trouble

National politics were intense in 2018, from the midterm election, to murder in an embassy, to state funerals. It has left Donald Trump at the low end of his narrow range of public approval, blamed for a record-breaking shutdown, running a government of “acting” officers and looking at impeachment. The highlights of events of 2018, which feature his weaknesses and vulnerabilities, have left him with diminished re-election prospects.

Shutdown and Pelosi. President Trump and Republicans lost the U.S. House of Representatives on November 6th by 8 percentage points, translating into 40 seats. Nancy Pelosi and her committee chairpersons will now be in charge of oversight of the Trump administration. After two years of Republicans heading both chambers of Congress, House Democrats are now poised to scrutinize and criticize the administration’s and Trump’s performance, actions and rhetoric. The shutdown victory for Pelosi and the “no wall” House Democrats demonstrated the new environment to the legislatively-inept White House.

Dow and Powell. Trump believes he’s been responsible for the stock market’s success over the last two years. Since the market has started to drop, he’s shifted the responsibility to the Chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, and to the Democrats’ win in November. Actually, there are a myriad of issues weighing on investors’ decisions, including a world growth slowdown, central banks tightening, and trade and tariff troubles. The constant chaos in D.C. is not helpful. Although January was a good month for the Dow, if the U.S. falls into a recession in late 2019 or 2020, the President’s re-election becomes even less likely.

Cohen and Mueller. In 2018, Michael Cohen provided considerable bad press for President Trump. It won’t end. Now, the House can request his testimony, creating additional platforms and rounds of media coverage. The latest Roger Stone theater performance only adds to media scrutiny of the investigation. The Mueller report is expected in early 2019. It’s not clear what impact it will have on Trump, but with a Democratic House, it will be more significant and accessible than before.

Kim and Putin. Trump’s meetings with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were highs and lows of his 2018 diplomatic initiatives. He declared a major success with Kim, but he has little to show for it except for less bluster from Kim. His own intelligence agencies disagree with his upbeat assessment. Putin’s aggressiveness in Eastern Europe, the Black Sea and Middle East is unabated. Trump’s anti-alliance attitude and unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops in combat zones has caused considerable consternation in Washington and abroad.

Health Care and Guns. The top issues for Democrat candidates in the House midterm elections were health care and guns. The inability of House Republicans to offer their incumbents a scintilla of legislative support after the high-profile loss of the Affordable Care Act repeal in the Senate and myriad of school shootings undermined many of their swing and suburban candidates and contributed to their loss. House Democrats are taking up both issues to get recorded votes on their proposals for use in 2020 campaigns.

Moonves and Cosby. The #MeToo movement continues to roil industries, with Hollywood and New York media titans proving most vulnerable. Les Moonves, one of network television’s dominant figures, was quickly brought down with a personal cost of $120 million in lost severance. Bill Cosby, after lengthy trial and appeal efforts, is locked up. Politicians have also been taken down. The movement drew record numbers of women to run for office and continues to motivate marches and candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Khashoggi and Media. The death of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul was the highest profile loss in a year of mayhem and repression of reporters. For more than two years, the U.S. President, joined by dozens of authoritarian leaders, has been contributing to a hostile environment, repeating the “fake news” criticism. But, following the Khashoggi murder, media organizations, friends and supporters, including the U.S. Senate, fought back.

Mattis and Syria. The sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria by President Trump and equally surprising resignation of Defense Secretary Mattis in protest pushed the entire Mideast policy into chaos. Russia, Turkey and Iran appear the winners in Syria. This year started with Secretary of State Pompeo conducting a “confusion reduction” tour of Middle East capitals, attempting to explain the consistency and wisdom of U.S. policy. Trump wants the U.S. out of Afghanistan quickly. If terrorists emerge from the wreckage of those two countries, Trump will be blamed, just as President Obama was when ISIS emerged after the Iraq withdrawal.

Wall and Kelly. The proposed border wall was the focal point for a midterm election story as President Trump decided to make a crisis on the southern border and caravans of immigrants coming through Mexico his final argument. After a near settlement of wall funding in December, Trump shifted positions and ratcheted up the rhetoric, leading to a record-breaking federal government shutdown. After a tumultuous year, John Kelly resigned as Trump’s Chief of Staff with little thanks during a week when no one noticed. Managing the wall dispute was one of his many near impossible tasks. His replacement became another member of Trump’s rapidly growing “acting” cabinet and staff. The duration and stress of the shutdown and failure to secure the wall may become one of Trump’s most serious failures.

Although 2019 should provide a pause between national elections, it has started in a frenzy and is unlikely to let up. The 2018 turmoil in national politics produced a troubled backdrop for the beginning of the pre-2020 year of the Trump administration.

Crises of Leadership Among the Allies

The leaders of the world’s most powerful allied democratic nations are all supported by well under half of their respective citizens. The collective average approval of the heads of state of the big five allies is about 35 percent. In fact, the two most currently popular leaders are Angela Merkel at 40 percent, who just ceded power in Germany after repeated election losses, and Donald Trump , who, while remaining in a narrow range of public approval (40%), runs a chaotic administration, which faces shutdowns, declining re-election chances and an impeachment. He also is not much of an ally or an advocate of democracy in the traditional post-WWII sense.
  • Theresa May, dealing with a difficult Brexit decision, a fractured parliament and party, and a closely divided country, is barely at 30 percent approval. May is respected by the public for sticking to her principles, but only 28 percent believe she is handling Brexit well.
  • Angela Merkel was forced to step down as head of her party in December and announced she will serve out her last term as chancellor. She became party leader in 2000. Her 40 percent approval rating is low for her long career. She still has no serious opponent in the German political system, but her center-right coalition does not command a majority.
  • Emmanuel Macron, who just entered office (5-17) with high ratings, has dropped precipitously over the last year and is now facing a grassroots revolt over fuel taxes, disrupting the country in regular “yellow vest” protests. His economic reforms in France and pro-EU globalism are embattled.
  • Shinzō Abe won an election in 2017 and has been designated by his party to continue in office, making him the longest serving Japanese prime minister in post-war history. His approval ratings have been on a rollercoaster, affected by scandals and international incidents, such as North Korea’s missile tests. Late last year, it was around 30 percent, but since 2017, his ratings have been above 50 percent and below 30 percent.
  • Trump’s minimalist, transactional “we’re done being suckers” (America’s the victim) foreign policy has abandoned U.S. leadership and even much friendships with the allies. Yet, the country remains powerful just because of its size. It is unlikely Trump’s approval rating will break out of its range (38% to 44%). Two years of disruptive behavior has narrowed his domestic support and largely ended America as a credible advocate of democracy.

Trump Begins to Lose Control of Foreign and Defense Policy

In his latest legacy press interview with the “failing New York Times,” President Trump had to explain the discrepancy of his views on foreign policy from his intelligence experts, who had just provided the Senate contrary opinions on Iran, North Korea and ISIS. He also felt the need to attack former Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, whose December 20 resignation was the trigger for doubts about Trump’s policies and behavior among both domestic and foreign leaders.

Of course, the Democrats, now in control of the House, especially the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, are now starting to press the administration to justify their more controversial policies. Chairman Adam Smith of the House Armed Services on Thursday claimed the “acting” Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan (see blog of Jan. 10, “Trump Likes “Acting” Cabinet Secretaries”) failed to provide transparency in his testimony earlier in the week concerning the deployment of 3,500 more troops to the Mexican border. Democrats suspect the Pentagon couldn’t or didn’t want to defend the deployment in a public setting.
Jim Mattis and Mitch McConnell

But, even Senate Republicans are challenging Trump’s control of foreign policy. After the Khashoggi imbroglio, 56 senators voted in December to end America’s military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Yesterday (Thursday, Jan. 31), the Senate voted 68 to 23 with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to amend a Mideast policy bill with a warning against a “precipitous withdrawal” from Syria. McConnell’s involvement is a direct result of the Mattis resignation, which obviously has Trump roiled; hence, his controversial effort to rewrite Mattis’ resignation into a firing (see “Mattis Resigns With a Blast at Trump’s Leadership,” Dec. 21, 2018).