By Saeed Sobhani

The conflict between Trump and Carter

July 3, 2019 - 15:30

The struggle between Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter in recent days has attracted many political analysts in the United States. This conflict has occurred in the worst possible time for Trump. The president of the United States does not have a good status in public polls and states.

An overview of what has recently happened between the former president and the current president of the United States can be considered:

Jimmy Carter suggests Trump is an illegitimate president

As Cnn reported, Former President Jimmy Carter suggested Friday that a full investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election would show that Donald Trump didn't win the presidency."There's no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election. And I think the interference, although not yet quantified if fully investigated would show that Trump didn't actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf," Carter said at the Carter Center's retreat in Leesburg, Virginia. Asked if he believes Trump is an illegitimate president, Carter paused for a moment."Based on what I just said, which I can't retract," Carter said to audience laughter.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's report found that Russia waged a "sweeping and systematic" influence campaign during the 2016 election with the goal of electing Trump, but did not establish a conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Moscow. Trump was asked to react to Carter during a Saturday news conference in Osaka, Japan. He said Carter is a Democrat and repeating a "typical talking point." Trump called Carter a "nice man, terrible president."Trump defended his 2016 win, saying he "worked harder and worked smarter" than Hillary Clinton. Until now, the former one-term Democratic president had shared a warmer relationship with the current President more than Trump has had with any other living president. Though he has been critical of Trump's foreign policy and accused him of deepening racial divisions, Carter has also shown a willingness to help Trump. He took a phone call from Trump in April -- the first time the two had spoken -- to discuss US-China trade negotiations. Carter also offered to travel to North Korea in order to meet with Kim Jong Un on Trump's behalf, according to a Democratic US lawmaker. In 2017, Carter told The New York Times that the media was "harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I've known about."

That was fast: Donald Trump-Jimmy Carter détente crumbles

Also, Washingtonexaminer reported that Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter have both had at times toxic relationships with fellow living presidents, for different sorts of reasons. So, the trans-Pacific sniping between the pair during President Trump's Asia visit isn't terribly surprising. But it is notable, considering only weeks ago the president reached out to Carter, who held office during Trump's Studio 54 club days in the late 1970s when he was an up-and-coming Manhattan real estate developer.In mid-April, Trump called his predecessor to discuss China, according to Carter, which the Trump White House then confirmed. Carter, 94, told a Georgia Sunday school audience the discussion was prompted by a letter Carter wrote to Trump about relations between the United States and China.

"President Jimmy Carter wrote President Trump a beautiful letter about the current negotiations with China and on Saturday they had a very good telephone conversation about President Trump’s stance on trade with China and numerous other topics," the White House said in an April 15 statement. "The President has always liked President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and extended his best wishes to them on behalf of the American people."

The call marked the first time the sitting commander in chief is known to have reached out to a predecessor on a policy issue. But the warm relations didn't last. On Friday, Carter said he doesn’t believe Trump, 73, won the 2016 election legitimately. Speaking at a Carter Center conference on human rights, the former president said a full investigation into Russian interference “would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016.”

“He lost the election and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf,” Carter said. Trump soon fired back."He's a nice man. He was a terrible president. He's a Democrat, and it’s a typical talking point. He's loyal to the Democrats, and I guess you should be," Trump said from the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. "As everybody now understands, I won not because of Russia, not because of anybody, but myself." 

Trump responds to Carter: 

"He's a nice man. He was a terrible president. He's a Democrat and it’s a typical talking point. He's loyal to the Democrats and I guess you should be ...As everybody now understands I won not because of Russia, not because of anybody but myself."So, add Carter to Trump's enemies in the ex-president's club.

Trump and Obama are not on speaking terms. At former President George H.W. Bush's funeral, they exchanged a fleeting handshake while sitting next to each other but didn't speak. And former first lady Michelle Obama wrote in her 2018 memoir Becoming that she could never forgive Trump for jeopardizing her family’s safety by promoting the birther conspiracy theory, which claimed Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, thus making him ineligible to be president.

Trump also regularly chides former first lady Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and his defeated 2016 Democratic rival, and sometimes her husband, Bill Clinton. Former President George W. Bush has been a Trump target, too, from time to time, through criticism of the Iraq war he led as commander-in-chief. The Bush clan has largely kept its distance from Trump. Carter, an ex-president now for more than 38 years, has also annoyed his Oval Office successors, both Democrats, and Republicans. In fall 1990, he drew President George H.W. Bush's anger over efforts to undermine the international coalition the U.S. and allies were building at the United Nations to eject Iraq from Kuwait, which it occupied that August.

Nearly four years later, Carter infuriated then-President Bill Clinton by inserting himself into diplomatic efforts to make Haiti's military leaders step down and avert an imminent American-led invasion. And Carter went on to be a fierce critic of President George W. Bush's foreign policy approach, particularly the Iraq War.

Carter's 2002 Nobel Peace Prize was largely seen as a rebuke to Bush. Gunnar Berge, the Nobel committee chairman at the time, was blunt about his committee's intentions. The award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken,'' he said.

The worst possible hit on the Trump 

Tramp is extremely concerned about the impact of Carter's critique of his situation. As U.S. media reported,  President Trump attends the G-20 summit in Japan this week, a score of Democrats who want his job are debating in Miami — vying for a nomination that looks increasingly worth having. Major polls taken in the late spring showed President Trump trailing his top Democratic challengers both nationwide and in key states where the 2020 election will be decided. One recent Fox News poll, for example, showed Trump trailing prospective challengers Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders by 10 and 9 percentage points, respectively. Weak polling numbers are not a new thing in the Trump presidency. In 2016, polls showed candidate Trump losing right up until the day he was elected. (Cliffhanger wins in several swing states produced his Electoral College majority, even as he lost the national popular vote by nearly 2 percentage points.)

The president has long since made a habit of dismissing polls, or at least those he doesn't like, as one more example of "fake news."Only Fake Polls show us behind the Motley Crew. We are looking really good, but it is far too early to be focused on that. Yet it was widely reported this month that the president's own polling team had found similar results in its fieldwork in March. When word of this leaked and was confirmed by the president's campaign, the president reportedly fired three veteran members of his polling team.
The president's campaign manager has said Trump's numbers have recovered since March and that his "numbers have never been better," although he has yet to release any numbers to back up that assertion.

Poor poll numbers are not unusual for presidents midway through a first term. Three of the past four presidents who won a second term were trailing prospective opponents 18 months before they were reelected. As NPR's Mara Liasson has noted on Twitter, incumbents who have come back from significant deficits include Ronald Reagan, who won in 49 states against Walter Mondale in 1984. Moreover, the last incumbent president who lost his reelection bid (George H.W. Bush) did so after having been far ahead of the field with 18 months to go. Polls pertain to a point in time, and their shelf life is short. They have only limited power to predict the future because the events and dynamics of the actual election year always alter the landscape in unforeseeable ways.

So what is the value of a poll taken this far from Election Day? One answer might be found in the examples Liasson cited. All three of these presidents — Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama — had suffered substantial setbacks in the midterm elections during their first term. Each was battling emboldened opponents in Congress.

In June of the year preceding their reelection bids, three of the four were "losing" to either a specific opponent from the other party or a generic nominee of the other party. But all found ways to tack toward the center, accentuate the positive side of their first term and renew their personal bond with the voters who put them in office. All three wound up winning — Reagan in a historic landslide. Clinton and Obama were reelected more narrowly but still had comfortable leads in the Electoral College.

So what happened to the one candidate Liasson cited who had been ahead at a comparable point in time? The first President Bush, flush with success after the quick collapse of the Iraqi army in the Persian Gulf War, seemed almost guaranteed a second term when polls were conducted in June 1991.

Partly as a result, Bush and his team underestimated the challenges and challengers ahead. They were dismissive of intra-party rival Pat Buchanan and independent H. Ross Perot, and untroubled by such upstarts as Clinton, who was then the youthful governor of Arkansas. Worse yet, the Bush team would be slow to react to the recession that overtook the economy that falls. Battered by Buchanan and Perot and the economy in the early months of 1992, Bush found himself beleaguered and forced to cover his conservative flank. That led to moves such as his veto of the popular Family and Medical Leave Act (which was almost enacted over his veto). All this helped Clinton, who would win the three-way November election against Bush and Perot with just 43% of the popular vote.

So, early polls cannot "call the race." But they can point a candidacy in a particular direction, right or wrong. They can lead to complacency, or they can offer insight into the state of political opinion and the mix of national sentiments.

Taken seriously, and taken in concert with other sources of intelligence, early polls can act as a corrective for a presidency at risk. We can read today's polls, then, and ask why Trump is not doing better in the midst of relative peace, low unemployment, and interest rates, and a soaring stock market. We can also observe that he loses these hypothetical matchups despite overwhelming approval ratings among Republicans. Is there something he is doing that keeps his base firm but prevents its expansion? Are there ways the president can alter his approach and keep his friends close while alienating fewer potential swing voters?

So far, his reelection strategy seems centered on his base and the most provocative issues and behaviors that bind him to it. These include his hard line on immigration, tough talk on trade and bellicose attitude toward foreign adversaries — as well as his confrontational personal style. Defenders say "it's worked for him so far," and that is true. But if the current polls mean anything, they mean that what has worked for him has limits. The signals are there to be seen.


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