“Eleven years ago today, near the bottom of the worst recession in generations, I signed the Recovery Act, paving the way for more than a decade of economic growth and the longest streak of job creation in American history.”
That was former President Barack Obama in a Feb. 17 tweet touting and crediting his administration’s policies with enabling the recovery of the U.S. economy from the financial crisis and Great Recession more than a decade ago.
President Donald Trump responded the same day, tweeting, “Did you hear the latest con job? President Obama is now trying to take credit for the Economic Boom taking place under the Trump Administration. He had the WEAKEST recovery since the Great Depression, despite Zero Fed Rate & MASSIVE quantitative easing.”
This naturally led to a news cycle debating whether President Trump could take credit for any of the economic successes being seen right now—sustained growth, the lowest unemployment in 50 years, rising wages, etc.
But why can Obama take credit for his first few years in office but not Trump?
Here’s the truth.
Incumbents are always judged by the present state of the economy. It’s how the American people hold politicians accountable. Just ask Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush if they think the economy had any bearing on their political fortunes. Both had recessions occur during their first terms in office, which turned out to be their last. No amount of blaming their predecessors would have made a difference.
If the economy were to have entered a recession during President Trump’s watch — recall the headlines from last summer when short term interest rates briefly inverted with long term interest rates — you can bet that President Trump would have been blamed for it.
It stands to reason then that with the economy doing so well, and Americans becoming wealthier, that Trump will undoubtedly receive the lion’s share of the credit when the American people go to vote in November. Voters will likely point to the President’s policies on tax cuts, deregulation and America first trade with new fair and reciprocal trade deals with Mexico, Canada, China, South Korea and Japan as playing a key role.
Obama didn’t build that.
At this point in 2012, the U.S. economy had not produced a single job during the former President Barack Obama’s administration from when he took office in Jan. 2009. It was still down 568,000 jobs, and yet Obama would go on to win the 2012 election.
Was it because Americans blamed Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, for the state of the economy and the 8 million jobs that had been lost in the Great Recession?
Possibly, but the fact is, as tepid as the recovery following the Great Recession were, by 2012, the charts were pointed in the right direction. From the low of 138 million Americans employed in Dec. 2009, by Jan. 2012, it was up to 141.5 million Americans with jobs — a jump of 3.5 million.
If the numbers had kept on sinking throughout Obama’s first term, it might have easily only been a one-term proposition. But things were getting better, albeit slowly, and Obama was reelected fairly easily.
Comparatively, since Jan. 2017 when President Trump took office, the economy has produced 6.5 million jobs in the household survey compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and unemployment remains at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent.
The biggest gains have been made by working-age adults, with labor participation for prime working age 25-54-year-olds jumping from 81.5 percent when Trump took office to 83.1 percent today, representing an additional 2 million prime working-age Americans in the economy than would have been had participation remained the same. That same participation rate for 25-to-54-year-olds had dropped every single year during the Obama administration until it finally bottomed at 80.7 percent in 2015. There was some recovery in 2016, and then most of the gains occurred starting in 2017 to present.
But somehow, like contortionists, the American people are supposed to discount the gains made during the early Trump years because those were really Obama’s accomplishments, even as Obama takes credit — and took credit on the campaign trail in 2012 — for the jobs created since the Dec. 2009 low, attributing it to the legislation he signed into law.
The fact is the American people will be judging President Trump on the present state of the economy when they go to the polls in November, not former President Obama.
The only question that matters is as Ronald Reagan once put it: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
And Trump has a good story to tell in 2020 about the economy. Is that really surprising to anyone who follows politics? When things are bad, the incumbents get blamed. When they’re good, they get credit.
Which is exactly what’s happening now. The latest Real Clear Politics average of recent polls has President Trump’s job approval on the economy above 55 percent. And that’s even before all of the early primaries for the Democratic nomination have even been completed. That leaves Trump in a commanding position in the presidential race as the blue-collar economic boom taking place continues. Stay tuned.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
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