- - Wednesday, May 1, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s the economy, stupid.

In fact, when it comes to presidential elections, it’s always the economy, stupid. Relative economic strength or weakness is perhaps the best gauge of whether an incumbent president is reelected or falls to a challenger promising a “change” to greener future pastures.

By this measure, President Trump looks in fine shape heading into the 2020 campaign. And now that the special counsel’s report is in, dashing his enemies’ impeachment hopes, they are wishing desperately for something else that might cripple his reelection chances: a cratering economy.

Nothing defines anti-Trump hysteria like their manic rooting against America.

This is why most of them were thunderstruck by the news that in the first quarter of 2019, the economy expanded at a breathtaking 3.2 percent. Analysts had expected a still-healthy but lower rate of 2.5 percent. The astonishing number reflected galloping growth across the board: in wages, the labor market, the stock market and exports.



The unemployment rate is at its lowest point in a half-century, and among individual groups such as African-Americans, Hispanics and women, the jobless rate is at or close to historic lows. The Trump economy has created more than 5 million jobs, many of them in the manufacturing sector. It wasn’t that long ago that President Obama declared those jobs — and the overall manufacturing sector — dead and buried, never to arise again.

The country is enjoying a flourishing economy built on a revival of free-market economics, lower taxes, deregulation, the opening of the energy sector and trade reform. And Mr. Trump had been delivering these remarkable results while under the cloud of the special counsel investigation. Now that he — and the nation — are free of it, the economic dynamism may well accelerate.

And that, in turn, will make the Democratic presidential candidates’ attempts to beat him even more of an uphill fight.

What are they going to run on? “Change?” Change from what? A booming economy, from which the vast majority of Americans are tangibly benefiting? Change from having more of their own money in their pockets? Change from being able to restart their own American dreams? Change from the profound sense of optimism they’re now feeling?

Good luck with that, Bernie, Joe, Kamala, Liz and Pete.

The 2020 Democrats know that running against the Trump economic agenda is a losing proposition. Their arguments about income inequality, Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, increasing the minimum wage, college loan forgiveness and other socialist claptrap will be largely disregarded as so much left-wing noise. In a weak economy, those progressive castles in the air might have resonance. In a strong economy, those who spout them might as well be spitting into the wind.

Mr. Trump will constantly remind voters that not a single Democrat voted for the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, which cut individual rates and slashed the corporate rate (which old-school Democrats from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama once supported). They tried desperately to stop it, because they knew that it was going to power economic growth — which, while good for the American people, is bad news for them.

Even before its passage, the economy was already humming, thanks to Mr. Trump’s sweeping deregulation efforts, dismantling of Obamacare and movement on energy and trade. Now, with the tax cuts fully in effect and the Mueller report in the rearview mirror, we might expect consistent stretches of 3 percent-plus economic growth.

Even the most virulent anti-Trumpers are agog at the economic news. The New York Times has admitted that the tax cuts have benefited vast numbers of Americans and that the “Trump effect” has created a “wave of optimism.”

A powerhouse economy leaves Democratic challengers with nothing but warmed-over anti-Trump palaver on which to run.

Presidents with weak economies — or challengers stuck trying to convince increasingly prosperous Americans to switch presidents in midstream — usually meet a gruesome political end.

As I’ve written about previously, pre-Watergate President Nixon had a shaky economy, driven in large part by the oil shocks of the early 1970s. It’s unknowable if a strong economy could have rescued him, but a sluggish one certainly hastened his departure.

Historic tax reform and thorough-going deregulation gave President Reagan a booming economy and a defensive shield when the Iran-Contra scandal hit.

On the flip side, when President George H.W. Bush broke his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge, the economy went south along with his reelection hopes.

President Bill Clinton survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal in large part because he rode a robust economy courtesy of the internet bubble (which later burst).

Mr. Trump knows these lessons of history — as do the Democrats. A dynamic economy creates electoral momentum for a president responsible for the new prosperity. Mr. Trump’s success has already made it far more difficult for his opponents to advance their existential war against him and their leftist agenda.

The extraordinary economic boom is the reelection. If it continues apace, one by one the Democratic candidates will float into irrelevancy, and Mr. Trump will astonish the world all over again.

• Monica Crowley is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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