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Why Can’t Trump Convince Americans He Kept His Promise to Fix the Economy?

In the last 120 years, 18 elected presidents have sought reelection. Fourteen of them won, which you’d think should augur well for Donald Trump in 2020.

Of the four who failed, three had serious challengers either during their own party primaries or in the fall from a debilitating third-party challenger. Of the four, three also ran into turbulent economic times – Herbert Hoover faced  the Great Depression in 1928, Jimmy Carter had serious inflation in 1980 and George H.W. Bush had a sagging economy in 1992. “It’s the economy, stupid.”

So, Donald Trump should be in good reelection shape next year, right?

Well, maybe. It’s a strange political paradox of contemporary times that a poor economy can kill a presidential campaign, but a really good one doesn’t seem to help much, thanks to thankless voters.

You’d think it would. After the weak growth of that endless Obama reign of error, along comes a New York billionaire businessman who leads a Republican Congress to pass historic tax cuts aimed at the middle class. Almost immediately, a Trump predicted, economic growth took off. 

The ranks of employed Americans reached historically high levels while unemployment – even in historically high sectors like Hispanics and blacks — dropped to historic lows, 3.8% nationally. In a tightening labor market, wages grew for the first time this century.

And yet virtually every single major polling organization consistently finds more Americans disapprove of the tax cuts that benefitted them than approve. It’s 49 to 40 in Gallup, 49 to 36 in Pew, 43 to 34 in Monmouth.

Democrats won the tax-cut message battle saying it benefitted mainly the wealthy.

So, how did American voters, including some two million new jobholders, reward the mounting prosperity in the 2018 midterms? They took the House of Representatives out of Republican control and gave it back to Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats.

Why did this happen and what does it presage for next year?

In political communications, the sole responsibility for getting a message out rests on the sender’s shoulders, in this case Trump and the GOP in Congress. 

The president talks about the economy on virtually every occasion he speaks publicly. You may have noticed, Trump is not shy about touting Trump accomplishments, even over the loud whoop-whoop-whooping of a waiting Marine One:

“We have great growth and also very, very low inflation. Our economy is doing great. Number One in the world. We’re (the) Number One economy right now in the world and it’s not even close.”

Or the other day: “We promised these tax cuts would be rocket fuel for the American economy. And we were absolutely right.”

The nation’s news media are not looking to promote Trump accomplishments. And since Trump touts the Trump economy regularly, it’s not really new news anymore. 

So, in most cases unless you’re watching the event yourself live on C-SPAN, you’re not going to have the unexpectedly impressive 3.2 percent annualized first-quarter growth rate drummed into your head.

And, to be honest, congressional Republicans have not exactly been vociferous in their economic boasts. One reason why a few dozen of them joined the unemployed ranks last November.

Unfortunately, however, Trump also cripples his own message too often by tossing out distracting messages—new attacks on a Democrat, the media, a book author.   

He’s a skilled showman for sure. On TV and in politics. He goes by his gut. He’s executive producer of his own reality show and he can read a rally crowd like a skilled surgeon diagnosing a patient. 

Trump gives the crowds what they want. And his stubbornly loyal base eats it all up. He’s telling truth to swamp power, as he promised in 2016. 

But you know what? A disciplined politician knows that each person in every rally crowd is merely a prop, an enthusiastic, even adoring prop but one that’s present to enable a president to get his message to millions more far beyond the arena through the media. 

A rally crowd already likes you or they wouldn’t have stood in line so long to be in the same space. You need to broaden your base and reach the millions who didn’t come, who have their doubts about your behavior, who are quite possibly tired of all the political turmoil and susceptible to an alternative’s siren-like promises of calm and freebies.

When Trump offers tempting news alternatives to media, they’re only too happy to run with that and ignore the stale “old” economy news. 

There are 79 weeks left before Decision Day, plenty of time for Trump to tweak his strategies and behavior to broaden his appeal in just the right places. 

Also plenty of time for Democrats to commit suicide-by-Sanders or pick an exciting, fresh face as they did in 2008 while rejecting another GOP candidate in his seventies. 


Issues & Insights is a new site formed by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. We’re just getting started, and we’ll be adding new features as time permits. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. 

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Andrew Malcolm

@AHMalcolm Veteran national & foreign correspondent, nonfiction author, blogger, National Politics Columnist for McClatchy at http://bit.ly/2gQO0mn

5 comments

  • When 90% of the mainstream media is spending every waking moment, minus of course time for paid crass advertising, to convince the American people that everything Trump is touching is bad or failing…..it’s surprising that Trump can even show up in public.

    And yet, that same mainstream media has thoroughly destroyed its own reputation with all of its political mudslinging. They’ve burnt the bridge they themselves are standing on.

  • If you live in the DC-Boston corridor or in LA – SF you’re getting only what the left wing DNC propaganda machine wants you to hear on network news. Most Americans lives are too busy or they’re not interested in more than 30 minutes of national news.

  • Herbert Hoover lost to FDR in 1933. But you’re right it was because of the Great Depression.

  • “Why Can’t Trump Convince Americans He Kept His Promise to Fix the Economy?”

    Half of Americans have an IQ of 99 or less; universal suffrage will be the downfall of the Republic.

    Stupid people vote for their own kind.

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Issues & Insights is a new site formed by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. We’re just getting started, and we’ll be adding new features as time permits. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. As one of our early readers put it, we want to be the “calm in the storm.”

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