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Albert Hunt: Voters miss Obama because they respect integrity

albert hunt

Albert Hunt

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BY ALBERT HUNT

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A CNN poll last week showed that most Americans think Barack Obama was a better president than Donald Trump has been. The margin was huge: 19 percentage points.

Trump supporters will yell "fake news," but they'll be wrong. Respondents to the same survey thought Hillary Clinton would have been a better president than Trump, but only by three percentage points. By comparison, she bested Trump in the 2016 popular vote by 2.1 percentage points.

The wide preference for Obama over Trump (and Clinton) has little relationship to public attitudes toward policies on taxes, health care or Iran policy. (Obama and Clinton are pretty well aligned on those.)

The explanation seems simpler: a respect for integrity. Obama had it, running a largely corruption-free administration. The Trump presidency, all 16 months of it, has been marked by lies, greed, ethical transgressions and criminal charges.

None of these offenses daunts the hardcore Trump base. But another 10 percent of the voters who cast ballots for him in 2016 are showing signs of being bothered, as suggested in an exquisite 15,000 word article last weekend on Trump voters in the Upper Midwest by the Washington Post's Dan Balz. These voters, Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos told Balz, were "Trump triers" who turned to him either because they were turned off by Clinton or wanted to shake things up. They expect a modicum of integrity.

They haven't gotten it. It's familiar territory worth reviewing. Trump has refused to divest his business holdings and relishes using his presidency to enhance them. The latest example came this week when it was reported that the Chinese government is lending a state-owned construction company $500 million to build an Indonesian theme park that features a Trump-branded hotel and golf course.

Trump's Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, Scott Pruitt, is the subject of 11 federal inquiries into his travel expenses, security practices and sweetheart condo deal with an energy lobbyist's wife, among other things. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has become best known for arranging a $130,000 payoff to silence a porn star about a fling with Trump. The investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into links between the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election has produced indictments or guilty pleas involving 19 people and three companies.

The Washington Post's fact checker has counted 3,001 false or misleading presidential claims - so far. That's an average of 6.5 per day.

Sure, some apologists rationalize, all politicians have scandals and lie. President Bill Clinton lied about sex, crossed an ethical line on fundraising and outrageously pardoned the criminal fugitive Marc Rich. An aide to President George W. Bush, Scooter Libby, lied to a grand jury to protect Vice President Dick Cheney. (Trump pardoned him in April.)

But the scale of Trump administration mendacity has no modern equivalent.

And yes, Obama misled people about whether they'd be able to keep their existing medical-insurance plans under his signature Obamacare health-care program.

But his supposed scandals were phony ones conjured by right-wing gunslingers.

Congressional Republicans whipped themselves into a froth over the "Fast and Furious" case involving a government action against Mexican drug cartels in which a federal agent was killed. A detailed investigation by Fortune magazine, not an Obama apologist, concluded that Republican accusations against Obama administration officials were "replete with distortions, errors, partial truths and even some outright lies."

Another would-be scandal over charges that the Internal Revenue Service singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny fizzled out when the Treasury Department Inspector General, in the Trump administration, found that it was a canard.

There are legitimate debates over whether Trump or Obama deserve more credit for the strength of the economy, or which president would do better in a room alone with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

There is no legitimate debate, however, about which one is more truthful or honest.

Albert Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist.

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