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Sizing up the 2017 scorecard for Trump and the GOP

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: President Trump Attends GOP Senate Policy Committee Luncheon On Capitol Hill
From left, Sen. John Barrasso, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Thune and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn talk with reporters following the weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee luncheon in the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 28.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — With the soon-to-be final passage of their tax plan, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans now have racked up a number of accomplishments in 2017:

  • Passage of the tax overhaul;

  • Elimination of Obamacare’s individual mandate (which was included in the tax plan);

  • Confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch;

  • Confirmation of a dozen appellate-court judges;

  • Rolling back many of Obama-era regulations.

That’s the good news for Trump and the GOP in 2017. The bad news is the toll that the year has taken on them, according to our new NBC/WSJ poll.

  • Trump’s approval rating stands at 41 percent, the lowest for any modern president ending his first year in office;

  • The GOP’s fav/unfav rating went from 35 percent/38 percent in December 2016 (-3) to 27 percent/49 percent in December (-22) now;

  • Democrats hold an 11-point advantage in congressional preference – their biggest since 2008;

  • Just 36 percent of Americans say they would vote to re-elect Trump in 2020 — down from the 46 percent who voted for him in 2016, per the popular vote;

  • Democrats now hold a 5-point advantage on which party better handles the economy — their first lead here since after Barack Obama’s second inauguration;

  • 45 percent of Americans say the country is worse off since Trump became president, versus 30 percent who say it’s better off;

  • And only 24 percent think Trump’s tax plan is a good idea, versus 41 percent who think it’s a bad idea.

“If 2016 was a year Democrats couldn’t wait to see end, 2017 is a year for the Republican Party that cannot end soon enough,” said Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster who co-conducted the NBC/WSJ survey with the GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies.

Strikingly, this kind of toll on Trump and the GOP didn’t have to happen — at least not this soon. The economy is growing (by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans say Trump has made things better rather than worse). There isn’t a major war. There were tragedies (the shootings in Las Vegas and Texas) and natural disasters (the hurricanes) that the president could have used to bring the country together.

Indeed, you could argue that a GENERIC president right now would be holding close to a 50 percent job rating. But Trump is no generic president. Just look at these other numbers from the NBC/WSJ poll:

  • By a 25-point margin — 53 percent to 28 percent — the public believes Trump has made America’s standing in the world worse rather than better;

  • By a 40-point margin — 57 percent to 17 percent — it believes Trump has made bringing the country together worse rather than batter;

  • And a 49-point margin — 58 percent to 9 percent — it believes Trump has made the division and partisanship in politics better rather than worse.

As the National Journal's Josh Kraushaar writes: "Americans are voting their values, not their pocketbooks. And that’s alarming news for Republicans looking to hold their increasingly tenuous Congressional majorities."

Trump’s 2017 record on the economy has been good. But the economy hasn’t been markedly better than it was a year ago.

But on pocketbook issues, Trump does have a good story to tell. The Dow Jones is up nearly 5,000 points since he took office; the unemployment rate is down to 4.1 percent; and more than 1.9 million jobs have been created during his first 11 months in office.

But compare that record with Obama’s — especially given Trump’s criticisms of the economy during the Obama era.

  • Dow Jones under Trump (19,827 on Jan. 20; 24,755 now): 25 percent increase
  • Dow Jones under Obama (7,949 on Jan 20, 2009; 19,827 when he left office in 2017): 150 percent
  • Jobs created in first 11 months of 2017 (under Trump): 1.9 million
  • Jobs created in first 11 months of 2016 (under Obama): 2.1 million

What has been better in 2017 than in 2016 has been the GDP — at least so far:

  • GDP in 2017: Q1 1.2 percent, Q2 3.1 percent, Q3 3.3 percent
  • GDP in 2016: Q1 0.6 percent, Q2 2.2 percent, Q3 2.8 percent, Q4 1.8 percent

The House still has to vote one more time on the tax bill

“The Senate voted along party lines after midnight Tuesday to pass a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax bill that slashes tax rates for corporations, provides new breaks for private businesses and reorganizes the individual tax code,” NBC’s Benjy Sarlin writes. “The House approved the bill earlier Tuesday but will have to vote again on Wednesday. Democrats in the Senate persuaded the chamber's parliamentarian that several minor provisions in the House bill violated Senate rules, forcing the House into an embarrassing second vote.”

That kind of sloppiness happens (1) when you’re racing to complete something before Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama gets seated in the Senate, and (2) when you’re forced to use reconciliation (needing just 51 votes instead of 60). Remember, had Republicans shot to win 60 votes and make the legislation more bipartisan, those Senate rules wouldn’t have been a problem.

Republicans turn against Mueller, while views from Democrats and independents stay the same

Turning back to our NBC/WSJ poll, special counsel Robert Mueller has a 28 percent positive, 21 percent negative score in the survey (+7); it was as 24 percent positive, 11 percent negative back in June (+13)

And the change has come exclusively from Republican respondents:

In June:

  • Dems: 35 percent positive, 9 percent negative (+26)
  • Indies: 22 percent positive, 12 percent negative (+10)
  • GOPers: 15 percent positive, 14 percent negative (+1)

In December:

  • Dems: 39 percent positive, 14 percent negative (+25)
  • Indies: 37 percent positive, 23 percent negative (+14)
  • GOPers: 13 percent positive, 31 percent negative (-18)

Virginia Democrats end GOP majority in House of Delegates

“This proves it: Your vote really does count,” NBC’s Dartunorro Clark writes. “Democrats edged out Republicans by one vote in the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday after a rollercoaster recount flipped a red seat to blue and created a 50-50 tie between the two parties. Democrat Shelly Simonds is the apparent winner in the race for the 94th District, beating incumbent Republican David Yancey.”

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