For the past four decades in American politics, the comparison any first-term president has most wanted to avoid is to Jimmy Carter.
That’s not entirely fair, since Carter governed at an exceptionally difficult time, in the shadow of Vietnam and Watergate and at the apex of the Cold War.
Nonetheless, his presidency came to signify total system failure in the face of spiraling events.
This is the month when Donald Trump’s presidency came to look remarkably Carteresque.
As our cities burn and break, as helmeted federal agents loose tear gas in front of a darkened White House, as Americans remain shut away from the global pandemic that has killed 110,000 of us and gutted the economy, there’s a sense in the land that the man at the controls is utterly overmatched and has no idea which button to press.
Except the Twitter button of course.
Carter and Democrats tried their best to use the power of incumbency in his reelection bid in 1980, but it was doomed from start to finish.
Carter had lost the confidence of the American people, much in the same way Trump has done so in 2020.
Both were faced with big moments, and both seemed incompetent to deal with the challenges.
When you start being ridiculed for fainting while jogging (Carter) or scuttling down a ramp (Trump) it’s impossible to get the political mojo back.
A new national Gallup poll finds that 39% of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 57% disapprove.
That’s about where Carter found himself in the summer of his reelection year.
Throughout the fall, Carter attacked his opponent Ronald Reagan for being too extreme, too old, too out of touch.
But none of it worked.
Reagan was personally popular, much like Joe Biden today, and the American people had already determined Carter was too incompetent at governing.
The reality by the numbers:
Net approval ratings tell the story.
The average president had his net approval rating shift by only 6 points from this point forward.
Given Trump’s net approval rating is in the negative low to mid-teens, a 6-point improvement would land him with a net approval around -7 to -10 points on Election Day.
That’s about where he was during the 2018 midterms, when Democrats came sweeping back to power in the House.
Presidential approval ratings historically do not move much from June of an election year to Election Day.
One previous estimate from FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver suggested that a president with a 40% approval rating in the June before the election had only about a 20% chance of winning the upcoming election.
That’s largely jibes with more sophisticated models that take into account a slew of indicators.
That means Trump and Republicans are heading for a cliff.
Keep in mind Trump barely won four years ago.
He lost the popular vote by three million, while winning three states that gave him an electoral college advantage by less than 80,000 votes.
And polls from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania have Trump losing.
Arizona is almost a lost cause, Florida and Texas are tied, and Trump today only has a 1 point lead in Arkansas.
He’s playing defense in Arkansas, the way Carter played defense in New York.
The wave that’s coming will likely result in Democrats holding the House and gaining a majority in the Senate.
A complete hosing of the Trump era.
And while Jimmy Carter became a well respected former president, don’t expect the same from Trump.
He won’t be building houses, traveling to Africa to represent a compassionate America, or convey any empathy for the poor.
No, Trump will still be tweeting from Florida.
Making life miserable for Republicans for years to come.