The sizzling economy underpins President Trump’s final blitz for Republicans in the midterms, with dire warnings that the jobs boom and higher wages will slip away if Democrats seize Congress.
Mr. Trump enjoys the best first-term economy in three decades with the gross domestic product growing at a 3.5 percent annual rate last quarter, and Mr. Trump wants Republicans rewarded for it at the ballot box.
Analysts agree, however, that good times breed complacency among midterm voters and that grievance, such as the burning hatred harbored by Mr. Trump’s opponents on the left, is a stronger motivator for turnout at the polls.
“We have made so much progress. We don’t want to give up that progress. We can’t allow that to happen,” Mr. Trump said at a rally Saturday in Murphysboro, Illinois. “Under Republican leadership, America is booming like never before because we are finally putting America first.”
The message took a back seat to the president’s somber call for unity and fortitude after a shooting Saturday at a Pittsburgh synagogue killed 11 Jewish worshippers.
The president considered canceling the rally and an earlier event with young farmers in Indianapolis because of the anti-Semitic attack but said he decided not to let an evil man dictate his schedule.
“We can’t make these sick, demented, evil people important,” Mr. Trump told thousands of supporters at the rally in an airplane hangar at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro.
The rally aimed to boost Rep. Mike Bost, who is in a tight race to hold on to his seat and help Republicans retain their majority in the House.
At every stop, Mr. Trump touts the historically low unemployment rate, rising wages and resurgence of manufacturing, mining and steel industries.
“More Americans are working today than at any point in the history of our country. How good is that as a sound bite?” Mr. Trump said in a speech to the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis.
The strong economy provides a foundation in Mr. Trump’s stump speech for the rest of his pitch to keep Republicans in control of Congress. It’s the first item mentioned in a litany of “wins” that he promises to keep delivering if Republicans turn out to vote Nov. 6.
Last week, he dropped references in his stump speech to the stock market and soaring 401(k) balances after a massive sell-off that erased all of this year’s gains in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The government also reported that the federal deficit is quickly soaring again and that the tax cuts and spending increases that are likely fueling the economy are set to create trillion-dollar deficits by the end of this decade.
But for now at least, Mr. Trump has the economy on his side.
Real gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 3.5 percent in the last quarter, which ran from July through September, the government reported Friday.
The last time a president had such a hot economy heading into congressional elections in his first term was in 1978, when President Carter was sitting on a 4.1 percent growth rate.
The country was in a recession in 1982, during President Reagan’s first midterm elections, and was growing at a rate of less than 1 percent for President George H.W. Bush. President Clinton managed a 2.4 percent rate, President George W. Bush oversaw a weaker 1.8 percent rate and President Obama had a solid 3 percent.
Mr. Trump took office with the growth rate at 1.8 percent in his first quarter, but the economy quickly heated up. He has since posted quarterly growth numbers of 3 percent, 2.8 percent, 2.3 percent, 2.2 percent, 4.2 percent and now 3.5 percent.
“These results are no accident. This is what happens when we pass policies to help American consumers, workers and businesses generate economic growth and opportunity,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
He and fellow Republicans point to the stunningly low unemployment rate and high consumer confidence as other indicators of a strong economy, but some conservatives warned that the economy should be performing better.
The Club for Growth, a free market political lobby group, acknowledged that growth was strong but said the economy “has recently encountered some formidable headwinds.”
Josh Bivens, a research director at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank, said the lesson of growth was that government spending can boost the economy. He said the $300 billion, two-year spending increase Congress approved this year is the biggest infusion since the Obama stimulus — and it is reverberating.
Still, in a piece Friday morning, he blamed Republicans for a bad mix of policies, saying their tax cuts weren’t helpful but some good came out of the spending.
“What this past year’s growth acceleration has made clear is that Congress and the president really can use fiscal policy to provide a very quick and sharp boost to the economy — even when they’re being mostly incompetent about it,” he said. “We should insist in the future that this power be used when it’s good for typical families, not just when it’s useful for beating your political opponents.”
Strong GDP growth hasn’t been a magic elixir for presidents in midterm elections.
The economy grew at 4.9 percent rate just ahead of the 2014 elections, yet Mr. Obama’s party lost the Senate and suffered even deeper losses in the Republican-led House. Those were his second midterm contests.
Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton’s 2.4 percent growth rate didn’t prevent a Republican wave in 1994.
Stephen Moore, senior economic contributor at the conservative group FreedomWorks and former economic adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, said the third-quarter report shows that consumers “went on a spending spree.”
“Unlike the previous report that was driven by business spending, this report was really driven by consumer spending,” Mr. Moore said in an interview. “That might be the best indication of how well workers are doing. They feel good about things. I think it’s the best indication yet of how widespread this recovery is.”
He said economic growth is averaging double what it was under the Obama administration.
“That’s a huge increase — more than doubling the growth rate in less than two years,” he said. “The liberal economists who gave us ‘Obamanomics’ were completely wrong about potential growth in the economy.”
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.