How Cable News Reacted To The Cohen Hearing

Not everyone has time to watch C-SPAN for five-and-a-half hours in the middle of the week. Not even to watch President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen call Trump a “racist,” “con man” and “cheat,“ as happened on Wednesday. And not even to watch Cohen be forcefully questioned by Republicans in response.

As such, we rely on the news media to watch for us. But the media is not a monolith. How an outlet condenses a big event like the Cohen hearings can shade how its audience interprets the events. And when it came to cable news, the networks differed in their coverage of the hearing’s aftermath, as you might expect. But an analysis of how the words used by each network differed is a window into how they’re framing the threats to Trump’s presidency. MSNBC, for example, appeared particularly focused on the legal implications of the hearing — on Robert Mueller and prosecutors. CNN was heavy on issues of credibility, money and payments, and the claim by Cohen that Trump is a “racist.” And Fox News was especially focused on other news altogether, namely what was happening thousands of miles away, where Trump was sitting down with Kim Jong Un.

Certain specific words gave the Cohen hearing these flavors on each of the three cable networks. Using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive and processed by the GDELT Project, we analyzed the coverage of Cohen on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC from 5 p.m. to midnight the day of the testimony.1 To suss out any differences in the networks’ coverage, we first looked at when “Cohen” was spoken and which other words were said within the same 15-second window. (That’s the size of the clips we can access from the data sources.) Then we looked at the 200 most-used Cohen-adjacent words across the three networks and isolated the 15 words that were most particular to each network. (By most particular, we mean the words that were used relatively more often in a network’s Cohen coverage.)2 You’ll see those words plotted on the chart below; we arranged each word by what percentage of clips that used that word came from each network. For example, of all the Cohen-related clips mentioning the word “summit,” 80 percent were on Fox News, 15 percent were on MSNBC and 5 percent were on CNN.

The words close to each network’s corner of the coverage triangle are the ones most specifically associated with its coverage. For CNN, “certainly,” “credibility” and “racist” stood out. Fox News was notable for its use of the word “summit” — presumably in reference to Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which happened around the same time as the Cohen hearing. And MSNBC’s coverage was distinguished by its talk about “prosecutors” and “Mueller.” (Words in the center, such as “news,” were used a lot but not especially favored by any network in particular.)

And the qualitative flavor of the coverage varied widely as well. CNN talking head Chris Cillizza baldly declared “winners” and “losers” from the hearing. The former included the performance during the hearing of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — “and man, did she nail it.” Ocasio-Cortez’s interrogation of Cohen was praised elsewhere for being “well thought out.” The latter included Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, who was “out for blood,” revealing little in his questions beyond his contempt for Cohen.

On the other hand, other coverage suggested that the hearing was merely a tool for Trump’s opponents and that given Cohen’s history of lying, the whole thing was something of a farce. The day after the hearing, the morning show Fox & Friends, for example, went meta, declaring that the media “misses the mark.” “This is what you get when you have partisan political operatives masquerading as journalists,” said Ned Ryun, a Republican strategist and the show’s guest. “They can barely control their glee.” He went on to call it “theater of the absurd” and a “total clown show.”

Fox & Friends then stepped hard on the FiveThirtyEight brand, comparing data on the amount of time the cable news networks had spent on Cohen versus the U.S.-North Korea summit during the run-up to the hearing, lamenting the fact that the other networks had given far more airtime to the former. “There’s a reason they call us fair and balanced,” a host said. (FiveThirtyEight has not independently verified those numbers.) The summit fell apart early, and no deal was reached.

There will be more political events in the weeks and months to come. The cable networks’ coverage surely won’t march in lockstep on those, either. We’ll be watching.


From ABC News:


Trump’s National Emergency Policy Is Unpopular, But Not Really Unpopular

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

President Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency in order to build more physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border was generally unpopular, but polls suggest the move has very high support among Republicans. That dynamic could be important as Trump seeks to overcome challenges to his new policy both on Capitol Hill and in the courts.

Two polls conducted entirely after the emergency declaration show a majority of Americans don’t like it: An NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll that came out Tuesday showed a 61-36 split against Trump’s policy, and a Morning Consult/Politico poll released on Wednesday found 39 percent in support, 51 percent opposed. A HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted the day before and the day of the emergency declaration found similar results — 37 percent of Americans said they approved of the move, compared with 55 percent who disapproved.

These numbers don’t surprise me — they generally mirror Trump’s overall job approval ratings. For much of the past two years, around 40 percent of Americans have approved of the president’s performance, while a clear majority has disapproved. Similarly, overall support for the national emergency declaration is in the upper 30s in the polls we have so far. That’s because Republicans have lined up solidly behind it, according to both polls conducted after the declaration was made — the NPR poll found 85 percent support within the GOP, and the Morning Consult survey found 77 percent support. The HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 84 percent of Trump voters supported the declaration, although that poll was already underway when the declaration was made, so some respondents were asked about the move before it became official while others were asked after the announcement.

It’s not surprising that large numbers of Republicans supported Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency — GOP voters overwhelmingly approve of him. But high party support for a Trump policy is not always a given. For example, the policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border was significantly more unpopular within the party than the emergency declaration is — a FiveThirtyEight average of polls found that only about half of Republicans were on board with the separations. And while a majority of Republicans supported both the failed 2017 health care bill meant to replace Obamacare (67 percent) and the GOP tax plan passed the same year (64 percent), they did so at rates 10 to 20 points lower than we’re seeing on the national emergency policy.

Being backed only by Republican voters still isn’t great for the president. His base alone likely won’t be sufficient to win re-election. But in terms of policy, Trump tends to reverse himself only if there is a breadth of opposition that encompasses more than just Democrats and independents. That kind of opposition tends to create a feedback loop that’s hard to ignore — so, for example, the media criticizes something Trump does or says, establishment Republicans join in, and then the media prominently features those GOP critics in its coverage. Some Republican elected officials were initially wary of Trump declaring a national emergency, but I wonder if they will reconsider that posture after seeing these polls. And with few prominent Republicans willing to cast the national emergency policy as an “extraordinary violation of constitutional norms,” as The New York Times described it last week, I suspect the media will feel pressured to cover this debate as a traditional partisan dispute and so will back off from sharper condemnations of Trump.

Like the media, the courts are sometimes hesitant to take strong stands on partisan disputes. So they may be more reluctant to strike down Trump’s policy than they would be if it had gotten more of a mixed reaction from both sides of the aisle.

But the biggest reason these polls matter is they can affect what happens on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this week that the House will likely hold a vote to overturn the emergency declaration. If such a measure passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by Trump, Congress would need a two-thirds majority of both chambers to override the veto. That would require 53 Republicans in the House and 20 in the Senate to break with the president. I thought that was unlikely even before these polls came out. Now, seeing almost universal support for Trump’s declaration among Republican voters, it’s even harder to imagine a large bloc of Republicans in Congress breaking with the president, which means this policy is likely to survive.

Other polling nuggets

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not announced whether he will enter the 2020 Democratic presidential race, leads in South Carolina with 36 percent of the vote, according to a new Change Research survey that was provided to the Palmetto State-based Post and Courier newspaper. Also in double digits were Bernie Sanders (14 percent), Kamala Harris (13 percent) and Cory Booker (10 percent). Twelve other Democrats who either have officially entered the race or are rumored to be considering presidential runs were in single digits.
  • Biden is also ahead in New Hampshire, with 28 percent of the vote, according to a University of Massachusetts, Amherst, poll. Sanders is in second place with 20 percent, and Harris is in third with 14 percent. Seven other Democrats that were included in the survey are in single digits.
  • An average of 54 percent of white Democrats identified as politically “liberal” during the six-year period from 2013 to 2018, according to data released by Gallup this week. That compares with 38 percent of Latino Democrats and 33 percent of black Democrats. There was also variation by education level — Democrats with postgraduate degrees were the most likely to describe themselves as liberal (65 percent), followed by Democrats with undergraduate degrees (58 percent), those who attended college but don’t have degrees (45 percent) and those with high school educations or less (32 percent).
  • The same Gallup survey found major differences among liberal and conservative Democrats on a few issues: 81 percent of liberal Democrats think marijuana should be legal, for example, compared with 44 percent of conservative Democrats. Sixty-four percent of liberal Democrats oppose the death penalty for people convicted of murder, compared with 39 percent of conservative Democrats.
  • 45 percent of Democrats said they would be somewhat or very unhappy if their son or daughter married a supporter of the Republican Party, according to a PPRI/Atlantic survey released this week. Thirty-five percent of Republicans said they would be unhappy if their child married a Democrat. Higher shares of Republicans were concerned about their child marrying someone of the same gender (58 percent unhappy) or someone who identified as transgender (70 percent).
  • More than 60 percent of Americans said that the government should pursue policies to reduce the wealth gap and that they support a 2 percent tax on wealth above $50 million, according to a survey conducted by SurveyMonkey that was published by The New York Times this week. Opinion is more divided (51 percent support, 45 percent oppose) on a marginal tax rate of 70 percent on income above $10 million a year.
  • Just 17 percent of Virginians said they approved of the job performance of the state’s embattled governor, Ralph Northam (who has denied that he was in a racist photo on his page in his medical school yearbook but has admitted to wearing blackface in the 1980s), according to an Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics survey released this week. Thirty-four percent said they disapproved of Northam, while 44 percent said they neither approved nor disapproved. The good news for Northam is that only 31 percent of Virginians said they think he should resign, compared with 43 percent who said they don’t think he should resign. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused by two women of sexual assault, has a slightly worse standing — 35 percent of Virginia residents said they think he should resign, while 25 percent said that he shouldn’t. (The other 40 percent are in neither camp.)
  • A new Quinnipiac University survey of Virginia voters found better job approval numbers for Northam (39 percent approve, 44 percent disapprove). And in this poll too, a plurality (48 percent) of Virginians said he shouldn’t resign.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.7 points). At this time last week, 41.5 percent approved and 54.1 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -12.6 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.3 points.


From ABC News:


Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy

President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.

If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January.

Indeed, the act of declaring a national emergency to build a wall is even more unpopular than the wall itself — and the wall isn’t popular. Polls as tracked by PollingReport.com show an average of 32 percent of Americans in favor of the declaration and 65 percent opposed. Even in an era where many of Trump’s top priorities poll only in the low-to-mid-40s, that’s an especially large split, with roughly twice as many voters opposed as in favor.

Voters strongly oppose a national emergency over the wall

Polls conducted during and since the partial government shutdown on whether Trump should declare a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border

Pollster Dates Approve/ Support/ Should Disapprove/ Oppose/ Should not
CNN/SSRS Jan. 30-Feb. 2 31% 66%
Quinnipiac University Jan. 25-28 31 66
Monmouth University Jan. 25-27 34 64
Quinnipiac University Jan. 9-13 32 65
ABC News/Washington Post Jan. 8-11 31 66
Average 32 65

Source: POLLINGREPORT.COM

The emergency plan could potentially become somewhat more popular if Trump tries to rally his base behind it, but it’s an issue that causes a fair amount of divisiveness even among Republican lawmakers.

And the strategy suggests that Trump didn’t learn any lessons from the shutdown. His approval rating, which was 42.2 percent on the day the shutdown began, bottomed out at 39.3 just as the shutdown was ending. It has since mostly recovered to 41.5 percent, however. Despite Trump’s having capitulated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in agreeing to reopen the government for three weeks, the sky didn’t fall and the base stuck with Trump.

The mechanics of this are fairly straightforward. Trump indeed has a loyal1 base. That base is so loyal, however, that very little about what Trump does seems to affect their views or him. Here is Trump’s approval rating by party according to Gallup since the midterm elections, for example. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating was steady at roughly 88 percent before, during and after the shutdown. Among Democrats, it was also largely unchanged.2 Among independents, however, his approval rating plunged from about 39 percent just before the shutdown to 31 and 32 percent in two polls conducted in the midst of it, before recovering to 38 percent once the shutdown was over.

Trump’s base remained loyal during the shutdown

Trump’s job approval rating, by party, before and after the government shutdown

Trump’s Approval Rating Among
Dates Republicans Independents Democrats
Feb. 1-10 89% 38% 5%
Jan. 21-27 88 32 5
Jan. 2-10, 2019 88 31 6
Dec. 17-22 89 39 8
Dec. 10-16 86 37 7
Dec. 3-9 89 38 7
Nov. 26-Dec. 2 89 39 6
Nov. 19-25 86 34 9
Nov. 12-18, 2018 90 37 6

Polls in the shaded rows were conducted mostly or entirely during the government shutdown.

Source: Gallup

Again, nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.

But Trump will need those independents to win re-election. He needed them to become president in the first place. Trump won independents by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent for Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Had they gone for Clinton by 4 points instead, she would have won the national popular vote by 4 or 5 points, and won Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and possibly Arizona.

Or things could get a lot worse than that for Trump, and he could lose independents by a wider margin. In the 2018 midterms, Republicans lost independents by 12 percentage points, contributing to a 40-seat loss in the House. The key facet about the midterms is that turnout was very high, including among the Republican base. But it was also high among the Democratic base, and Republicans badly lost independents. The base alone isn’t enough to win national elections, especially for Republicans, since fewer voters identify as Republicans than as Democrats.

There’s just not a lot more to say about this. If Trump didn’t learn he needs to reach beyond his base from either the midterms or from the shutdown, he probably won’t figure it out in time for 2020.

Why Trump Blinked

President Trump blinked. The 35-day partial government shutdown appears to be ending.

From the start of the shutdown, congressional Democrats said they would not negotiate regarding Trump’s proposal for a border wall until the government reopened. Trump said he would not agree to legislation opening the government unless it included money for the border wall. That standoff lasted until Friday. Congress is expected to pass a bill that funds the government through Feb. 15 and does not include wall money, and Trump said that he would sign it in a Rose Garden address.

Why did Trump back down? Well, for all of the reasons we’ve been talking about for weeks. Polls consistently showed that the public was largely blaming the president, more than congressional Democrats, for the shutdown. That “blame Trump” view had recently gained more traction:

Moreover, Trump’s approval ratings were declining amid the impasse:

The public response had clear effects in Congress. Congressional Republicans had been unified behind the president in the early stages of the shutdown, but cracks started to emerge as it dragged on. In public, this was demonstrated on Thursday by six Senate Republicans voting for legislation put forward by Senate Democrats that would fund the government without money for the wall. And, in private, disagreement with the president’s strategy extended beyond those six. A meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reportedly turned into a venting session, with some senators scolding Pence for the White House’s strategy. Among the critics was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the power to bring forward legislation, whether Trump likes it or not.

We don’t know much about the private discussions between McConnell and the White House, but it’s possible that Trump folded in part because McConnell suggested Senate Republicans would likely move forward soon with legislation funding the government without paying for the wall — with or without the president’s support. Although Trump, in a Rose Garden speech on Friday, acted as if it were his decision to end the shutdown, the decision to fold may not truly have been Trump’s to make, and the speech may have been McConnell allowing the president to save face and concede before the Republicans in the Senate fully broke with him.

To be clear, it’s not certain that Trump has lost the broader fight over the wall. It’s hard to see congressional Democrats offering much funding for it, but maybe they will agree to some kind of compromise that includes a few billion dollars. (I wouldn’t bet on this, as liberal Democratic opposition to the wall seems to be hardening.) Or, as he suggested on Friday, Trump could declare a national emergency and reallocate funds from other parts of the government to finance a wall. Such a move will almost certainly draw legal challenges. But Trump might win in the courts, as he (eventually) did on his executive order banning travel from certain countries into the United States.

For now, however, we’re back to where we were when the shutdown began. Trump and Congress have three weeks to figure out a solution. In public, at least, all sides are staking out the same positions they held when the shutdown started. Trump will likely need a different strategy going forward. The one he employed over the last month — shutting down the government (which is unpopular) to get the wall (which is unpopular) — could not keep his party united forever.

In short, it was another example that Trump is not immune to broader political dynamics, despite his surprising win in 2016. The health care policy legislation he was pushing for much of 2017 was deeply unpopularand it failed. He had high disapproval ratings going into the 2018 midterms — and his party lost a ton of House seats. And now, he pushed a shutdown strategy that seemed doomed to fail — and it did.

Will Trump’s Compromise Help End The Shutdown? And Was It Even A Compromise?

Welcome to a special weekend-edition of FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, managing editor): Hey, everyone! We’ve convened here on a weekend(!) to talk about President Trump’s address to the nation on Saturday. Trump called the country together to make an offer to Democrats to try to end the partial government shutdown, now more than 28 days old.

Here’s Trump’s offer, summarized by Bloomberg News reporter Sahil Kapur:

So, the question in front of us: Is this offer likely to end the shutdown? And, more generally, is this a smart move politically by Trump, who’s seen his job approval rating erode as the shutdown has dragged on?

Let’s briefly start with that first question. What do you make of Trump’s offer? Will it bring about the end of the shutdown?

sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): No.

micah: lol.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Nyet.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): It’s not at all likely to end the shutdown. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bashed the proposal before the speech started (once reports came out with Trump’s offer). He didn’t consult Democrats before the proposal was released. It’s not clear he was even really trying to get Democrats to sign onto this.

sarahf: Yeah, what I don’t understand about the proposal is that it was negotiated without any Democratic input. It was just Vice President Mike Pence, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talking with fellow Republicans.

natesilver: I mean, there are some permutations where this is the beginning of the end of the shutdown, I suppose.

Those have to involve some combination of (i) Trump offering a better deal than what he’s offering right now, and (ii) public opinion shifting to put more pressure on Democrats.

micah: So is the best way to look at this address as basically a political ploy — an attempt to change the politics of the shutdown? (I don’t mean “ploy” in a negative sense.)

perry: I think that’s the only way to look at this.

natesilver: The real audience for the speech is likely the media. Because we’re the only people sick enough to actually waste our Saturdays watching this thing.

slackbot: I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. There is Advil, Aleve and Tylenol in the cabinet in front of Nate’s office/Vanessa’s desk.

micah: lol

natesilver: lol, slackbot

Anyway, in theory, “we’re willing to compromise and Democrats” aren’t is a perfectly decent message. It’s BS in various ways (mostly because the compromise Trump is offering isn’t too good). But it’s a fairly conventional message — to sell a not-very-great compromise as being a good deal.

sarahf: Right now, Americans overwhelmingly continue to blame Trump and congressional Republicans for the shutdown. Saturday’s speech seemed like an attempt on his part to try and shift some of that narrative by outlining a proposal that definitely seemed like a compromise.

perry: And I think it has as few potential good effects for Trump. First, it may help keep Republicans on Capitol Hill aligned with him. They were getting leery of his wall-only strategy. This makes it easier for the party to unify around him.

Second, Trump’s proposal allows McConnell to hold a vote and suggest he and his chamber are trying to resolve the shutdown too, just like the House is doing.

Finally, I assume, when pollsters ask people about this proposal, it will be more popular than the wall itself. My guess is it will be near 50 percent support and perhaps higher. Most people I assume aren’t totally against any money for the wall and feel like Dreamers must have a path to citizenship or else.

sarahf: And I don’t know if it’s a good look for Democratic leaders like Pelosi to immediately come out the gate saying, “nope this doesn’t work.” Then again, they weren’t consulted in the making of the deal it sounds like, so maybe she’d be better off highlighting that.

natesilver: I did think it was weird that Trump opened the address with a sort of uncharacteristically gentle paean to the virtues of legal immigration, but then careened to talking about drugs and gangs and violence and some of the other stuff that doesn’t usually pass a fact check. If you actually wanted to portray an image of bipartisanship, you could skip most of that stuff. Or you could talk about how there were extremists on both sides — call out Republicans for X and Y reason.

micah: Well …

I do wonder if this could change the politics of the shutdown in more than one way, as Perry was getting at.

It could make Democrats look like the intransigent side, as you were all saying.

But, it could also shift the narrative towards more “border crisis” and less “wall.” And that’s better political ground for Trump. Polls show more people believe there is a crisis at the border than support a wall.

sarahf: Right, last week we looked at different pollsters who asked Americans what they thought of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. I was surprised by the number of Americans who thought it was a serious problem or a crisis. Fifty-four percent of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll said they believed there was a security crisis along the border with Mexico. And in a CBS News/YouGov poll, 55 percent said the situation was “a problem, but not a crisis.”

natesilver: It could shift things — although, again, it’s worth mentioning that the deal Trump offered isn’t really much of a deal at all.

In fact, it offers a bit less than what they floated last night.

The DACA part itself is a compromise, but to get that compromise, Democrats have to give up something (wall funding) that they’re firmly opposed to.

Although, it probably is fair to say that the wall is also a compromise of sorts. As Trump actually emphasized. It’s not all that much wall. It’s certainly not a big concrete wall stretching the length of the border.

sarahf: I know! OMG, what a 180 from him on that!

And, as Democrats will be quick to point out, they were already working on their own legislation that would give $1 billion in funding for border security (but not a wall – to be clear).

natesilver: Right, and Trump hasn’t really made the case as to why a wall is necessary to stop the humanitarian crisis at the border.

The other thing is that … none of this is really new. This compromise, if you want to call it that, has been around for a long time. Democrats have rejected it because it doesn’t give them enough. They rejected better versions of this compromise before the shutdown began, in fact.

And Democrats have more leverage now than then because Trump needs the shutdown to end a lot more than they do — it’s hurting him politically.

micah: I guess my point is more that the convo may change.

perry: To put this bluntly, I think this speech had two audiences the media (so they will do “both sides” coverage) and Republicans (so they will stay loyal to Trump on this issue). I assume this speech will buy him at least of few days of that. And both of those, as Micah suggests, will help with the public opinion.

sarahf: I was kind of surprised that he made no mention of the thousands of furloughed government workers.

Like some kind of nod to their hardship. But nada.

perry: They’re all Democrats.

I’m joking, but that is what he thinks.

natesilver: The question is partly: will the press run with Trump’s frame?

micah: Nate, I don’t know if the media will run with it.

Probably?

The headline in the lower-third on CNN right now is “Pelosi rejects Trump’s proposal to end shutdown.”

perry: Trump may have bought himself at least another week to sustain this shutdown. Next week will be 1. Pelosi rejected Trump’s idea before he spoke, and 2. Senate holds vote and Democrats filibuster.

You all disagree?

micah: I think that’s right, Perry.

As we’re chatting, here’s Politico’s headline: “Trump’s bid to negotiate on wall met by Democratic rejection”

The Washington Post: “Trump offers to protect ‘dreamers’ temporarily in exchange for wall funds”

Dallas Morning News: “Trump seeks border wall funding in exchange for DACA protections to end shutdown”

natesilver: There’s at least some semi-intelligent understanding on the White House’s part of how media dynamics work.

At least parts of the speech play well into the media’s “both sides-ism.”

micah: NBC News: “Trump offers new shutdown deal, Democrats expected to reject it”

Los Angeles Times: “President Trump proposes to extend protections for ‘Dreamers’ in exchange for border wall funding”

ABC News: “Trump will extend ‘Dreamers,’ TPS protection in exchange for full border wall funding”

CBS News: “Trump proposes deal on immigration, Pelosi calls shutdown offer a ‘non-starter’”

natesilver: But the thing about that NBC headline is that the “new” part is pretty misleading.

perry: Those are great headlines for Trump. Considering the reality is closer to this:

micah: Yeah, at least in the very very early going, this seems like a good move by Trump.

natesilver: Keep in mind that media might feel a little chastened this week by the mess that’s become of the BuzzFeed story.

micah: Yeah, I was thinking that.

perry: I also think that keeping the Lindsey Graham’s of the world happy is something Trump cares about. The Republicans on the Sunday shows now have something to say. So do the Will Hurd’s.

micah: Very good point.

perry: Pelosi and Democrats, I would argue, were more unified than Republicans before this speech. But I wonder if some moderate Democrats start getting nervous now.

natesilver: The path here is like:

1. Trump and Republicans maintain some degree of message discipline for a week or so;
1b. Trump and Republicans don’t face too many defections from their own base;
2. Polling and other indications show that blame for the shutdown is shifting away from Trump and toward Democrats;
2b. There aren’t any strikes or planes falling from the sky that create a crisis and force an immediate end to the shutdown;
3. Trump offers Democrats a little bit — maybe quite a bit — more.

If all of that happens, maybe he gets a deal!

And no one of those steps is *that* crazy.

perry: So the fundamentals of this issue have not changed, you are saying, Nate?

natesilver: I don’t really think it changed anything.

perry: I agree.

natesilver: Except Trump made a chess move to advance the game instead of just sitting there petulantly staring at his opponent and watching his clock run down.

micah: “It gives him some more time” is a good read, I think.

natesilver: It was an extremely standard chess move, but at least it was a move!

sarahf: Well, I mean leading up to this speech there had been some speculation he’d declare a national emergency. And he didn’t do that.

So all things considered, I think this was a much smarter political move to make.

natesilver: Oh yeah, this is definitely better than that.

sarahf: Because I do think at this point Democrats have to say something other than, “we won’t support this.”

natesilver: It was, like, almost what a normal president with a competent group of advisors would do!

sarahf: Hahaha yeah

natesilver: But it will require a lot of follow through.

perry: I think Trump is aware that declaring a national emergency is a “loss.” He doesn’t want a “loss.” I don’t know how he gets a win. I actually think, this proposal, if it was passed, would very much irritate the right.

I will be curious how the right receives this idea.

perry: Ann Coulter attacked it hard.

natesilver: Coulter attacked it … although… you could almost say that’s helpful for Trump.

perry: Good point.

It makes it seem like more of a compromise if the right hates it.

natesilver: Now, if he loses the votes from several conservative Republicans in the Senate, then he’s screwed.

Or if he himself has second thoughts because Sean Hannity calls him tonight, he could screw himself.

perry: That’s an interesting question: Can Sen. Ted Cruz vote for this?

Can it actually pass the Senate?

micah: That is interesting!

perry: Because I assume part of the play here is for Republicans in the Senate to be seen doing something about the shutdown.

Would Sens. Susan Collins and Cory Gardner support this from the left-wing of the GOP? I think yes. But would Cruz, and some of the more hard-core immigration members on the more conservative wing of the party?

I assume yes, but I’m not sure.

micah: Wouldn’t you assume he cleared this with the Cruz’s of the world before unveiling it?

perry: I would not at all assume that.

micah: LOL.

That was a soft-ball.

perry: McConnell maybe.

sarahf: Yeah, I’m not picturing mass Republican defections here in the Senate … I guess just because McConnell seems to have been so heavily involved in negotiating this.

natesilver: Right, yeah

perry: Do we think any Democrats vote for it?

Doug Jones? Joe Manchin?

I assume no, right?

natesilver: Manchin maybe.

He voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, so it’s not exactly like he’s worried about stoking the ire of the Democratic base.

sarahf: But it does make you wonder why Trump ever listened to Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus in the first place getting into this mess.

Wouldn’t have $1.7 billion or whatever it was and no extension for DACA, TPS, etc. have been more popular for them?

I guess none of it went to the wall. So maybe not. No way to appease anyone!

natesilver: Right, the $1.7 billion didn’t specifically include border wall funding though.

perry: Another question: I think I’m a believer in the distraction theory, so would Trump have scheduled this speech if he knew Buzzfeed’s Michael Cohen story would be so heavily criticized?

micah: He sorta stepped on a pretty good news cycle for him.

Though Buzzfeed is standing by its reporting.

natesilver: Hmm. But the fact that he had a good news cycle probably means that today will be portrayed more favorably by the press.

So that gave him more incentive to do it.

perry: So you think the media, cowed by the coverage of the Cohen story, will cover this announcement more favorably than otherwise?

natesilver: The headlines we’re seeing are not “Embattled Trump desperately proposes already-rejected compromise in meandering speech,” but rather “Trump proposes new compromise and Pelosi rejects.”

micah: And you think the former is more accurate than the latter?

natesilver: I think “Trump again proposes already-rejected compromise in competent speech; Pelosi reiterates that she won’t agree” is roughly correct.

micah: The other thing maybe worth keeping in mind: The politics of the shutdown right now are really bad for Trump. Trump is unpopular, and the wall is even more unpopular. This is from our friends at The Upshot:

micah: And this is from us:

I guess what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be too surprising if the politics of this improved for Trump after his speech, given where they are now. There’s plenty of room to improve.

Anyway … final thoughts?

perry: We know that presidential addresses generally don’t work. But Trump is making those political scientists look really smart.

sarahf: I think the fact that Trump didn’t consult Democratic leadership is a big ding against this proposal. But the fact that Trump did put forward some kind of compromise is something. It has the potential to change the politics around the shutdown.

It’ll be interesting to see what congressional Republicans actually put forward and what Democrats choose to counter with.

natesilver: I thought it was a bit weird at the end when Trump said this was just the start of negotiations on a much bigger immigration solution.

If this is just small potatoes stuff, Pelosi might ask, why do we need to keep the government shut down, when we’re going to have a much bigger discussion about immigration anyway?

That’s ultimately the question that Trump doesn’t really have a good answer for. Why do we need to keep the government shut down to have this negotiation?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pelosi will need to be clear about that in their own messaging.

At the same … I wonder if they also want to float, maybe on background because it does sort of contradict the message of “no negotiations at all while there’s a shutdown,” some notion of what a real compromise would look like. e.g. the full DREAM Act.

Or my idea: Offer HR1, the Democrats’ election reform/voting rights bill, in exchange for the border wall.

perry: The one reason I have a hard time seeing any deal being cut: “the wall is a monument to racism” is a real view on the left and has real influence. That makes it much harder Democrats to sign off on any money for the wall.

natesilver: Also, Republicans would presumably never agree to HR 1. But it moves the Overton Window (sorry if that’s become an overused concept now) and frames the idea that Republicans are nowhere near offering a fair compromise.

If the wall is so important to Trump — and he’s often talked about it as his signature priority — a fair offer now that we have bipartisan control of government would be to give Democrats what’s literally their No. 1 priority (given that they named the bill HR1) as well.

(That’s Pelosi’s hypothetical argument, not me necessarily endorsing the deal as fair to Republicans.)

micah: Yeah, that kind of deal seems a looooooong ways off.

The Shutdown Is Hurting Trump’s Approval Rating. But Will It Hurt Him in 2020?

The partial government shutdown is beginning to drag on President Trump’s approval rating, which is at its lowest point in months. As of early Wednesday evening, his approval rating was 40.2 percent, according to our tracking of public polling, down from 42.2 percent on Dec. 21, the day before the shutdown began. It’s his lowest score since last September. And Trump’s disapproval rating was 54.8 percent, up from 52.7 percent before the shutdown. His net approval rating, -14.6 percent, was at its lowest point since February 2018.

There shouldn’t be much doubt that the shutdown is behind the negative turn in Trump’s numbers. While there have been other newsworthy events over the past few weeks, such as turnover among Trump’s senior staffers and a wobbly stock market, the shift is well-timed to the start of the shutdown on Dec. 22. Trump’s approval ratings had been steady at about 42 percent for several months before the shutdown. Since then, they’ve been declining at a fairly linear rate of about half a point for every week that the shutdown has been underway, while his disapproval rating has increased by half a point per week. Trump’s increasingly negative ratings match polling showing Americans growing concerned about the shutdown and disliking Trump’s handling of it. In a Marist College poll that was released this week, for example, 61 percent of respondents said the shutdown had given them a more negative view of Trump, while just 28 percent said they felt more positively toward him.

So all of that sounds pretty bad for Trump. But will any of it really matter to Trump’s political standing, in the long run?

The glib answer is “probably not.” We’re a loooong way from the presidential election. And presidential approval ratings, as well as those for congressional leaders, typically rebound within a couple of months of a shutdown ending. A shutdown in October 2013 that caused a steep decline in ratings for congressional Republicans didn’t prevent them from having a terrific midterm in 2014, for instance.

Also consider the insane velocity of the news cycle under President Trump. If the shutdown were to end on Feb. 15, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation were to drop the next day, would anyone still be talking about the shutdown?

Moreover, there hasn’t been that much of a shift, so far. In the context of the narrow historic range of President Trump’s approval ratings, which have rarely been higher than 43 percent or lower than 37 percent, a 2-point shift might seem relatively large. But it’s still just 2 points, when many past presidents saw there numbers gyrate up and down by 5 or 10 points at a time.

But I wonder if that answer isn’t a little too glib. There are some reasons for Trump and Republicans to worry that the shutdown could have both short- and long-term downsides.

For one thing, there’s no particular sign that the shutdown is set to end any time soon. And if the decline in Trump’s approval rating were to continue at the same rate that it has so far, it would take his political standing from bad to worse. By Jan. 29, for example, the day that Trump was originally set to deliver the State of the Union address before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disinvited him from addressing Congress, his approval rating would be 39.3 percent, and his disapproval rating would be 55.9 percent. By March 1, at which point funding for federal food stamps could run out, his approval rating and disapproval rating would be 36.9 percent and 58.4 percent, respectively, roughly matching the lowest point of his presidency so far.

In addition, because this is already the longest shutdown in U.S. history, past precedent for the political impact of shutdowns may not be fully informative. There’s the possibility that the shutdown ends not with a whimper (with Trump caving or with he and Pelosi anticlimactically reaching a compromise) but instead with a literal or proverbial bang, such as the government bungling a response to a natural or man-made disaster.

A prolonged shutdown could also materially affect the economy, although there could be some catch-up growth later. A temporary decline in GDP or consumer confidence probably wouldn’t affect Trump’s re-election, although a long-term decline obviously would.

Despite those possibilities, I’d still put a lot of weight toward our historical priors, which contain relatively good news for Trump. With almost 22 months to go until the election, it’s too early for either approval ratings or economic data to be highly predictive of a president’s re-election chances. Furthermore, approval ratings tend to rebound after shutdowns, and in any event, the decline in Trump’s numbers hasn’t been all that large, yet.

Nonetheless, if I were hoping for Trump’s re-election, there are two indirect reasons that the shutdown and its fallout would worry me. One has to do with his relationship with the congressional GOP; the other with his strategic posture toward his re-election bid.

The shutdown may have frayed Trump’s relationship with Republicans in Congress

Republican leaders in Congress didn’t want the shutdown in the first place. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Majority Whip John Cornyn originally thought they’d talked Trump out of shutting down the government — “I don’t know anybody on the Hill that wants a shutdown, and I think all the president’s advisers are telling him this would not be good,” Cornyn told Politico on Dec. 18 — before Trump shifted strategies in response to right-wing pressure.

Meanwhile, two of the most vulnerable Republican senators — Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Maine’s Susan Collins — have called for an end to the shutdown. Another, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, has called for a compromise with Democrats on the border wall and DACA, a deal that the White House rejected last year.

So it isn’t entirely surprising that Republicans in both the House and the Senate have starkly and sometimes sarcastically critiqued Trump’s shutdown strategy.

Congressional Republicans are not a group Trump can easily afford to lose. They have a lot of power to check Trump’s presidency, from modest measures such as treating his Cabinet nominations with more scrutiny to extreme ones like supporting his impeachment and removal from office. Obviously that’s getting way, way ahead of ourselves, and Trump’s approval ratings remain very strong among Republicans for now. That may constrain how much members of Congress push back against the president. But the conventional wisdom is arguably too dismissive of the possibility of an inflection point. Richard Nixon’s approval ratings had been in the low-to-mid-80s among Republican voters for years, but they suddenly fell into the 50s over the course of a few months in 1973. He resigned in August 1974.

The shutdown has prompted Trump to double down on his all-base, all-the-time strategy

But if Trump wants to get re-elected, his biggest problem isn’t what Republicans think about him; it’s what the rest of the country does.

The lesson of the midterms, in my view, was fairly clear: Trump’s base isn’t enough. The 2018 midterms weren’t unique in the scale of Republican losses: losing 40 or 41 House seats is bad, but the president’s party usually does poorly at the midterms. Rather, it’s that these losses came on exceptionally high turnout of about 119 million voters, which is considerably closer to 2016’s presidential year turnout (139 million) than to the previous midterm in 2014 (83 million). Republicans did turn out in huge numbers for the midterms, but the Democratic base — which is larger than the Republican one — turned out also, and independent voters strongly backed Democratic candidates for the House.

Plenty of presidents, including Obama, Clinton and Reagan, recovered from poor midterms to get re-elected. But those presidents typically sought to pivot or “triangulate” toward the center; we don’t know if the political rebound occurs if the pivot doesn’t. Instead, Trump has moved in the opposite direction. Despite some initial attempts at reaching out to the center, such as in passing a criminal justice bill in December and issuing trial balloons about an infrastructure package, Trump’s strategy of shutting down the government to insist on a border wall was aimed at placating his critics on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, and members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Maybe Trump took some of the wrong lessons from 2016. Trump may mythologize 2016 as an election in which he was brought into the White House on the strength of his base, but that isn’t necessarily why he won. And even if it was, trying to duplicate the strategy might not work again:

Given that, perhaps 2018 is a better model for 2020 than 2016. In the midterms, voting closely tracked Trump’s approval ratings, and he paid the price for his unpopularity. According to the exit poll, midterm voters disapproved of Trump’s performance by a net of 9 percentage points. Not coincidentally, Republicans also lost the popular vote for the House by 9 percentage points.

There’s plenty of time for Trump’s numbers to improve, but for now, they’re getting worse. So while the shutdown’s consequences may not last into 2020, it has been another step in the wrong direction at a moment when presidents have usually pivoted to the center.

Why Fights Over Immigration Keep Shutting Down The Government

We’re facing the third government shutdown in less than a year this Friday thanks, in part, to a fight over immigration policy. President Trump wants $5 billion for a border wall — an amount that is unlikely to make it through the Senate. Back in January, a disagreement over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program caused a partial government shutdown.1 So it’s worth taking a step back and asking: Why is immigration such a stumbling block?

After all, it wasn’t always like this. Conservatives once backed more liberal immigration policies, and liberals have at times backed more restrictionist ones. In 1986, for example, Ronald Reagan signed a law that granted amnesty to nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants. Reagan and George H.W. Bush both used their executive powers to declare that children of undocumented immigrants affected by the Reagan-era law could not be deported. In 2006, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who were both then senators, voted for 700 miles of additional fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a provision to satisfy conservatives concerned about a rise in illegal immigration.2

But over the past couple of decades — as the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. rose steeply and then began to decline — immigration policy has come to symbolize the two parties’ broader values and electoral coalitions. The battle over immigration policy is about way more than just immigration, in other words, in the same way that the tensions between the two parties on health policy reflect deeper fault lines. The politics of immigration today are notably more divided and partisan than they were 10 or 20 years ago, and there are a few reasons why.

First, there are the party coalitions. Compared to the mid-2000s, the Democratic Party of today includes fewer non-Hispanic white voters: 67 percent people who are or lean toward being Democrats were non-Hispanic whites in 2007, but that number had dropped to 59 percent in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty percent of self-identified Democrats are now nonwhite. Republicans too have grown more racially diverse, but only barely, and they are still overwhelmingly white: 88 percent in 2007, compared to 83 percent in 2017. About 12 percent of Democrats are Hispanic, roughly double the percentage of Republicans who are of Hispanic descent.

So the Democrats have a huge bloc of people in their party who have racial, ethnic and cultural ties to America’s most recent immigrants, who are largely Asian- and Latino-American. And while “minorities” and “people of color” are fraught terms that often ignore differences both between and within racial and ethnic groups, the Democrats are essentially now the home party for Americans who might feel that U.S. society treats them as “other.”

Secondly, while both parties have undergone ideological shifts, Democrats have shifted more dramatically. Pollsters ask a variety of questions to measure public opinion on immigration, but they all show the same thing: Democrats have become far more pro-immigration in recent years.

According to Pew, in 2006, 37 percent of Democrats3 said that legal immigration to the U.S. should be decreased, compared to 20 percent who said it should increase.4 Pew found a huge reversal in those numbers earlier this year: 40 percent of Democrats back higher immigration levels, compared to 16 percent who want them lowered. According to Gallup, 85 percent of Democrats now feel immigration is a “good thing” for America, compared to 69 percent who said the same in 2006. Republicans haven’t actually become more anti-immigration, according to Pew and Gallup. But, per Pew, there are more Republicans5 who want immigration decreased (33 percent) than who want it increased (22 percent).

As a result, the gap between the parties on questions about immigration has become a chasm:

And immigration is indicative of a broader shift: Democratic voters have grown more liberal on issues of race, gender and identity generally. That includes white Democrats.

The voters are not alone. Elites in each party have moved toward the ideological poles on immigration policy. Liberal-leaning activists and Democratic politicians argue that policies like the wall aren’t just bad or ineffective, they are immoral and racist. Trump and other conservatives have suggested that more immigration could both hurt the U.S. economy and lead to more crime.

Let me avoid making this a both-sides story: For the most part, Democrats are more aligned with overall public opinion on immigration. The majority of voters want undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children to be protected from deportation, and Democrats’ demand for that provision that led to last winter’s shutdown. Likewise, most voters don’t support a border wall, but Trump is driving toward a shutdown in pursuit of a wall, an idea that many congressional Republicans are fairly lukewarm about.

That said, America did elect a president (in 2016) and a Senate majority (in 2016 and 2018) who belong to the party that is generally less supportive of immigration, so either there is some appetite for a middle ground or immigration is not a deal-breaker issue for many Americans. Either way, it would be logical for the two sides to find a compromise. But the shifts the parties have undergone in the last 10 or so years make such a compromise hard to execute. Democratic leaders can’t easily sign on to any funding for a wall that their base thinks is a physical monument to racism, particularly since the top Democratic leaders are white but much of the party base is not. Trump can’t easily give up on the wall, since he basically campaigned on the idea that America needs a wall to remain a great nation.

So we’re already at two shutdowns involving immigration policy in the Trump era — and I would not rule out a few more.