For most of Donald Trump’s presidency, a buoyant stock market has helped inoculate Trump from scandal and controversy. That pattern is breaking down.
After a month-long plunge from late February to late March, stocks have surged by 44%. Yet Trump is getting no credit and his own valuation is dropping. Trump’s approval rating has fallen four percentage points since late March, to barely 41%, according to the FiveThirtyEight composite of polls. His disapproval rating is 54%, for a net approval of -13. A recent CNN poll found Trump’s approval at just 38%, around the same level as Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992. Both lost reelection bids.
Trump is facing the toughest opposition of his presidency amid the coronavirus pandemic, attendant recession and widespread civil rights rallies following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A stunning 80% of Americans think the country is “out of control,” which is obviously bad for Trump because more than anybody else, he’s the face of government.
By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans say they’re more worried about police violence than they are about protests calling attention to police violence. This is also bad news for Trump, who told governors they must “dominate” protesters, and tried to show them how with a heavy-handed clampdown on peaceful protests by federal troops in Washington, DC. Public denunciations of Trump by several retired generals and admirals followed. Trump is on the wrong side of public opinion here.
Perhaps most worrisome for Trump, he’s also facing new opposition from within his own party, which he has all but, well, dominated up till now. GOP stalwarts such as former president George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have all said they won’t vote for Trump in November. Another group of Republicans has formed an anti-Trump group called the Lincoln Project aimed at knocking Trump from office. Trump is fighting with seemingly everybody except the “Trump base” that presumably approves of his cop-first, law-and-order chest-thumping.
The stock market doesn’t render political verdicts, but it may be signaling that investors can make peace with Democrat Joe Biden if he beats Trump in November. Biden’s lead over Trump in national polls has ticked up to nearly 8 points as Trump’s own approval numbers have dropped. Biden leads by single digits in most swing states, as well. The stock market must have noticed by now, because it is supposedly taking the long view, looking well beyond the coronavirus shutdowns to a hoped-for recovery in the fall or winter.
The long view would obviously include potential policy changes if Biden wins, especially if control of the Senate flips to Democrats. Biden favors a higher corporate tax rate, expanded Medicare, and other programs that would generally involve more government spending and more tax revenue. Many analysts think the market needs to adjust—downward—to account for the smaller profits a Biden presidency might bring.
That’s not happening, which suggests the conventional wisdom on Wall Street may be changing. Trump has been considered friendly to stocks, because of his push to lower taxes and rein in regulation. But now, as Trump’s reelection odds dim, the market doesn’t seem to care. “Big day for the stock market,” Trump tweeted on June 8. “Next year will be our greatest ever.” “With or without you,” the market may be responding.
It’s possible the stock market is so juiced up on Federal Reserve stimulus measures that nothing can dampen the high. It probably also helps that Biden, a relative moderate, is the Democratic nominee rather than Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, who are more hostile to business. Trump may still try to label Biden a socialist, just as he’s trying to link the former vice president to the “defund the police” cause Biden doesn’t actually support. But the stock market, like many voters, may stop believing in Trump’s bogeymen.