WASHINGTON, DC – It was wonderful news: Researchers reported this past week the largest-ever one-year decline in the U.S. cancer death rate during 2017. And President Donald Trump didn’t miss the chance to take a bow.
Trump tweeted: “U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History! A lot of good news coming out of this Administration."
While many presidents have acted as the cheerleader in chief for the good things that happened on their watch, the cancer tweet showed how the president has taken the art of self-marketing to a whole new level.
From foreign policy initiatives to the choice of music at White House events, from the prevalence of “Merry Christmas” greetings to the title of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal (USMCA), Trump is happy to give himself a public pat on the back — repeatedly — for his great ideas.
As for cancer, the record drop occurred during Trump's first year in office and was part of a long-running drop that began nearly three decades ago as declining smoking rates and advances in treatment have led to falling rates of lung cancer illnesses and deaths.
But for the president, it was another message well received by his throngs of Twitter followers, with more than 161,000 people liking his tweet and another 25,000 retweeting it as of Friday.
It was all a bit much for Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, a breast cancer survivor.
“Cancer rates dropped before you took office. Hopefully they keep dropping because Congress rejected your cruel research budgets, which sought billions in CUTS to @NIH and the National Cancer Institute. This is good news despite you - not because of you,” she tweeted.
The president has supported cutting funding for the agency that oversees health research, although Congress has rejected his recommendations. In the current fiscal year, Trump recommended cutting more than $4.5 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health. In the end, he signed into law a $2.6 billion boost.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, said there is a sound strategy to the president’s efforts.
“To the extent that basically everything in the world that you like he's taking credit for, he’s making more salient that your world is filled with positive things while he's president, whether he deserves credit or not,” Jamieson said.
Trump also extended credit-taking this past week to international affairs.
At a rally Thursday, Trump said he had a hand in the latest Nobel Peace Prize, which went to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
“I made a deal, I saved a country,” Trump said without mentioning the country by name. “And I just heard the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country. ... Did I have something to do with it? Yeah. But that’s the way it is.”
Ahmed accepted the prize in December for making peace with longtime rival Eritrea and other reforms.
A senior Ethiopian official told The Associated Press the remarks referred to a different issue — preventing further tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt over a massive dam that Ethiopia is completing on the Nile river. Egypt says the dam threatens its water supply. Ethiopia says it’s needed for development.
The official asserted that Egypt’s president lobbied Trump over the disputed dam project, leading to the U.S. taking a role in the discussions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.
“President Trump really believes he avoided a war as such … but that was not the case,” the official said.
The president can cite strong economic numbers to go with his presidency — and does he ever.
The stock market regularly hits new records. The unemployment rate is low. Economic progress is the kind of bread-and-butter boasting all presidents do, regardless of how much responsibility they ultimately bear for that progress.
Jamieson said that fits with the public traditionally giving the incumbent credit when the economy is doing well and blame when it’s not — regardless of whether it’s deserved. She said that by veering into categories such as cancer, which has touched and scarred virtually every family at some point, he runs the risk of the many voters doing a double-take and asking what specifically he did.
“By taking credit for things that he obviously does not deserve credit for, such as the drop in the cancer death rate, you raise the possibility that the public will say, ‘What else is he taking credit for that he should not get credit for?’” Jamieson said.
While Jamieson sees strategy in the president’s credit-taking, others see a personality trait — and not necessarily a healthy one.
Wayne Fields, author of “Union of Words: A History of Presidential Eloquence,” said he couldn’t think of another president who approaches Trump’s level when it comes to self-congratulation.
Fields said: “Some will say this is just part of his routine, this is just part of his act. It may be, but I also think it’s part of his character and part of his need."
Associated Press writer Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.