Donald Trump recently tweeted of his presidency that “we are having a great time.” That is surely what Capt. Edward Smith must have said after his ship, the RMS Titanic, smashed into an iceberg back in 1912. Things didn’t work out too well for Smith, and as 2018 ends, the USS Trump is also taking on water — fast. For Trump supporters this may seem like fake news, but let’s examine some cold hard facts.
First: The Trump economy has peaked. Like a candy bar, the tax cut gave it a quick but short-lived sugar high. Second-quarter growth was impressive, a 4.2 percent annual pace. But this slowed to 3.5 percent in the third quarter, and the Federal Reserve says it will slow further to about 2.5 percent next year and, heading into 2020, to 1.95 percent.
Some economists say this is too cheerful: A CNBC survey of economists, fund managers and strategists suggested that there’s a 23 percent chance of an outright recession within the next 12 months.
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Then consider this: The unemployment rate is 3.7 percent. This is a fabulous number — the best in half a century. Yet Trump just lost 40 House seats and the House itself in a wave election, and his Real Clear Politics average approval rating remains stuck in the low 40s.
Question: If Trump’s numbers are that low with the growth we’ve had this year and a 3.7 percent jobless rate, where do you imagine they’ll be if things get worse, as the Fed predicts?
Good timing is everything in politics, and a slowdown heading into a presidential election cycle isn't exactly good news for the incumbent. Of course Trump, the anti-Truman, the man for whom the buck always stops somewhere else, will just point the finger at others — but voters won’t. For better or worse, the guy at the top always gets the blame. Especially one who has stuck his neck out bragging every day about how great things are because of, and only because of, him.
Mueller might have something big up his sleeve
This brings us to the legal vise that, like a boa constrictor, is ever so slowly squeezing the president. He has three giant problems here, and only one of them is special counsel Robert Mueller.
Let’s discuss Mueller first. Everyone keeps asking when is the former FBI director (and lifelong Republican) going to issue his report? Actually, with all the indictments, guilty pleas, convictions and prison sentences that have already been handed down, we already know a lot — and like a fireworks show on the Fourth of July, there could be a grand finale that makes the country go, “WOW.”
Remember: Mueller’s jurisdiction is not limited to Russia; he can take his probe in any direction necessary, and he has done just that. Trump supporters say there’s no collusion, and they may or may not be right. But they don’t know what other cards the wily lawman is holding so close to his chest.
Mueller’s revelations, released in a manner and time of his choosing, have the added effect of stealing news cycles away from Trump and keeping him on the defensive. The president is in reactive mode, tweet-ranting and waiting like the rest of us for the next shoe to drop. The president is not in charge — due process is. And this is what terrifies him.
There is also this: The impeachment of President Bill Clinton was 20 years ago this month. It should trouble Trump that the independent counsel investigating Clinton, Kenneth Starr, was able to charge a sitting president with obstruction of justice — and force him to testify before a grand jury.
All this is in addition to Trump being implicated by federal prosecutors for paying off mistresses to help his presidential campaign, a felony crime.
Trump's legal problems extend far past Mueller
If Mueller were to go away, the president would still be in a heap of other trouble. New York investigators are turning over lots of rocks and finding some slimy stuff. Just this month, the president agreed to shut down a personal charity after state Attorney General Barbara Underwood found “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.”
Imagine that: The guy who can’t be trusted to run a dinky little charity gets to run the country instead. Sigh.
On top of all this, House Democrats are chomping at the bit to investigate Trump every which way, starting with his tax returns — which the president continues to stonewall on. Republicans, who said it was vital to investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails, Benghazi, uranium and all the rest, call this partisan harassment and a waste of taxpayer dollars. This is what bald-faced hypocrisy looks like, folks.
A slowing economy. Mueller. New York investigators. House Democrats. Now add the principled resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, a government shutdown that Trump said he’d proudly own, and who knows what else down the road. Trump is in for a rough 2019. Prediction: A year from now, the president won't claim to be having such a “great time.”
Paul Brandus, founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Reports, is the author of "Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency" and is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @WestWingReport
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Robert Mueller, House Democrats and slowing economy will end Trump's 'great time' in 2019