The State of the Union is much stronger than the State of Trump

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.
Image: President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address to Congress at the Capitol on Jan. 30, 2018.
President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address to Congress at the Capitol on Jan. 30, 2018.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — One of the fundamental disconnects in American politics today is the difference between the state of the union (which has grown stronger in the last two years, at least according to the economic data) and the state of President Trump (which, well, isn’t that strong at all).

As the president is set to deliver his State of the Union address at 9:10 pm ET, here’s the strong economic data (which also shows that things were fairly strong before he came into office):

Unemployment rate

THEN: 4.7% (Jan 2017)

NOW: 4.0% (Jan 2019)

Dow Jones Industrial Average

THEN: 19,827.25 (Jan 20, 2017)

NOW: 25,239.37 (Feb 4, 2019)

GDP growth

THEN: 1.8% (1st quarter of 2017)

NOW: 3.4% (3rd quarter of 2018)

Consumer confidence (1985=100)

THEN: 111.6 (Jan 2017)

NOW: 120.2 (Jan 2019)

But due to the chaos and infighting inside the Trump White House (the leak of the president’s “Executive Time”), its untruths (that Democrats don’t care about border security), its brinksmanship (the government shutdown), the Russia investigation and other scandals (U.S. prosecutors are now subpoenaing Trump’s inaugural records) and the president’s focus ONLY on his base, the state of Trump looks far different than those economic numbers.

Just see last month’s NBC/WSJ poll:

  • Trump’s job approval: 43 percent, with 54 percent disapproving
  • High confidence that he has the right set of goals and policies: 33 percent
  • High confidence that he has the right set of personal characteristics: 28 percent
  • High marks for changing business as usual in Washington: 39 percent
  • High marks for being effective and getting things done: 38 percent
  • High marks for being a good negotiator: 36 percent
  • n High marks for being steady and reliable: 32 percent
  • High marks for being knowledgeable and experienced: 32 percent
  • High marks for being honest and trustworthy: 28 percent
  • High marks for high personal and ethical standards: 24 percent.

You could argue that America has been in a political recession for a while — maybe going back to October 2013 (government shutdown, crash of the Obamacare website). But over the last two years, we’ve entered a political depression — when the overall state of the union is pretty strong.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

The New York Times editorial page puts it pretty well: “The economy is humming, and unemployment is at 4 percent. High-school graduation rates are at an all-time high, and teenage pregnancy rates are at an all-time low… And yet: Polls show that three in five Americans think the country is on the wrong track. A majority expect things to get worse in the coming year.”

“As President Trump prepares to deliver his delayed State of the Union address on Tuesday, he might want to ask himself why people are so unsettled.”

And it raises the question: Would a generic president have much higher numbers than Trump does today?

Federal prosecutors subpoena Trump inaugural records

Speaking of how the state of Trump is weaker than the state of the overall union… “Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena for documents from President Donald Trump's inaugural committee, a representative of the committee said Monday night,” per NBC’s Alex Johnson, Tom Winter and Monica Alba.

“The U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York is investigating allegations that the committee misspent some of the tens of millions it raised from donations and that some donors gave money in exchange for access to influence Trump administration policy positions.”

“‘We have just received a subpoena for documents,’ the committee representative told NBC News. ‘While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry.’”

Chaos for Democrats in Virginia

One of the reasons why it became so easy for state and national Democrats to demand Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation was that his successor — Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat who’s African American — seemed like a no-brainer replacement.

But it no longer looks so easy.

The Washington Post: “The state Capitol hit a new level of chaos Monday as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) asked staffers to stand by as he decided his fate, while the man who would succeed him, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), denied a sexual assault allegation that appeared on a conservative website.”

And what’s even more chaotic is that Fairfax and his allies have insinuated that Northam and maybe even Richmond’s mayor are behind the sexual-assault allegation. More from the Post:

The Collective PAC, which has supported Fairfax and other black candidates around the country, accused “Northam’s team and advisors” of spreading unspecified “lies” about the lieutenant governor. It offered no evidence when making that claim in a tweet Sunday.

Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel dismissed that claim. “There was no involvement from the governor’s team in this allegation surfacing,” Yheskel said.

Fairfax also discounted the charge about Northam.

“I have no indication in that regard,” he said in a second media scrum Monday afternoon.

When someone mentioned another scenario — that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who is said to aspire to statewide office, had links to someone who brought the woman’s charges to light — Fairfax said, “You’re great reporters, and you’ll get to digging, and you’ll get to make some connections.”

Wow. If you’re Fairfax and if you’re possibly the person who will be elevated to the governor’s mansion, how are you bringing unity and calm to Virginia with these insinuations?

On Stacey Abrams and female leadership

With the controversies surrounding Northam and Fairfax, it’s very interesting that an African-American woman — Stacey Abrams of Georgia — will be delivering the Democrats’ response to Trump’s State of the Union address.

If you think it’s time for a woman to take over, well, what’s happening in Washington and Virginia — plus Abrams’ State of the Union response — gives you something to think about.

Beto speaks with Oprah

“Beto O’Rourke’s weeks of near-silence end on a massive stage when he sits down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey,” the AP writes. “The appearance Tuesday on ‘Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations from Times Square’ comes ahead of a possible presidential campaign and puts O’Rourke’s charisma put to the test.”

“O’Rourke dazzled Democrats last year by nearly defeating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in the country’s largest red state. But his presidential prospects have been overshadowed more recently with the generally well-received 2020 campaign launches of Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.”

Do note, however: “Though the taping is Tuesday, the interview won’t air on Winfrey’s network until Feb. 16. After that, O’Rourke doesn’t have another headline-grabbing event on his schedule — at least not yet.”

Measuring the 2020 Democrats’ fav/unfav ratings (among Dems)

From yesterday’s Monmouth poll:

  • Biden: 80 percent favorable, 9 percent unfavorable (+71)
  • Sanders: 68 percent favorable, 19 percent unfavorable (+49)
  • Warren: 57 percent favorable, 17 percent unfavorable (+40)
  • Harris: 46 percent favorable, 13 percent unfavorable (+33)
  • Booker: 44 percent favorable, 11 percent unfavorable (+33)
  • O’Rourke: 41 percent favorable, 9 percent unfavorable (+32)
  • Gillibrand: 28 percent favorable, 12 percent unfavorable (+16)
  • Castro: 24 percent favorable, 9 percent unfavorable (+15)
  • Klobuchar: 23 percent favorable, 8 percent unfavorable (+15)
  • Gabbard: 21 percent favorable, 9 percent unfavorable (+12)
  • Brown: 19 percent favorable, percent unfavorable (+11)
  • Bloomberg: 35 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable (+10)

On the 2020 trail

Per NBC’s Kyle Stewart:

Beto O’Rourke has his conversation with Oprah Winfrey… And Howard Schultz is in Boston on his book tour.