If presidential politics were still about “the economy, stupid,” then President Trump should be on a glide path to reelection.
The economy has added millions of jobs, the unemployment rate is near historic lows and the stock market has hit record highs.
But the field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders say it’s not enough. They say those indicators aren’t capturing the anxiety middle-class families feel in the Trump economy.
“This president walks around talking about and flouting his great economy, right?” said Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California. “He talks about the stock market. Well, that’s fine if you own stocks. So many families in America do not.”
As the presidential campaign gets fully underway, Democrats are hoping to defy history, which says when the economy is roaring, voters stick with the horse they’re riding, and when it’s struggling, they look for a change.
It was that sentiment that helped propel little-known Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton to the White House in 1992 with his “It’s the economy, stupid” reminder from campaign adviser James Carville that captured the economic uncertainty of that time. Mr. Clinton would go on to preside over spectacular job growth, and easily won reelection in 1996.
The Democratic presidential contenders, aware of the political power of a strong economy, are intent on making sure it doesn’t derail them this time.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts claims the “economy is doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top.”
“When you’ve got a government, when you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money and isn’t doing great for everyone else, that is corruption pure and simple,” Ms. Warren said.
Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont says income inequality is growing, and median incomes have been stagnant.
“Working people are sick and tired of working more for less,” he tweeted Sunday. “They’re tired of 3 people owning more wealth than the bottom half.”
Others have said Mr. Trump is taking credit for Mr. Obama’s economic achievements.
“It is true, he has managed to not tank the Obama recovery for a couple of years, good for him,” Pete Buttigieg said on “The Daily Show.”
Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, also said there is “a lot of concern that this prosperity isn’t widespread.”
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said Democrats are “trying to minimize the strength of the economy by talking about wealth and the 1% who own the majority of the wealth in the country.”
“They are making a point that the economy in a sense is bifurcated with the benefits of it going to a select few in the economy, not to the population as a whole,” Mr. Madonna said. “They have to keep on that issue because it is Trump’s strongest suit.”
The White House got some more good news last week when the Labor Department announced the economy added 224,000 jobs in June, and the labor force participation rate crept up to 62.9%. Hourly wages also rose 6 cents, for an annual increase of 3.1%.
Since Mr. Trump took office the nation has added nearly 6 million jobs, the national unemployment rate ticked down to 3.7% and real wages ticked up.
The positive trends are reminiscent of the Clinton years when the “dot-com boom” led to the creation of nearly 8 million jobs over his first 30 months in office, the unemployment rate dipped almost a couple of percentage points and wages climbed.
Presidents George W. Bush and Mr. Obama, meanwhile, recorded negative job growth over their first 30 months in office, as the nation reeled from, respectively, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession of 2008. But both men ended up recording positive job growth.
Mr. Trump now says “economy is the BEST IT HAS EVER BEEN!”
“When you have the best employment numbers in history, when you have the best unemployment numbers in history, when you have the best economy probably that we’ve ever had, I don’t know — how the hell do you lose this election, right?” Mr. Trump said at a recent rally.
It marks a rhetorical turn from 2016 when Mr. Trump flatly rejected the findings of jobs reports, calling the unemployment rate a “phony number” that’s conjured up to make politicians look good.
Democrats in the 2020 presidential field have adopted a similar tack, betting that enough voters will see a disconnect between the financial stress they are under at home and the rosy economic picture Mr. Trump paints on the campaign trail.
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released a survey this month that showed Mr. Trump is getting mixed reviews for his work on the economy, with 51% disapproving of his handling of the economy.
The survey found that 63% said the economy is doing well, 47% gave Mr. Trump credit for the economy and 51% disapproving of the way he has handled the economy.
Sixty-three percent said their family’s income kept up with expenses, while 25% said their income had lagged behind their daily expenses.
In a Monmouth University Survey released earlier this year, nearly 60% of Americans said wealthy families have benefited a lot from Mr. Trump’s policies, compared to 14% who said poor families. Over half of the respondents said their family has not benefited from the economic upturn.
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