Will the Good Economy Be Enough to Carry Trump to Reelection?

The conventional wisdom treats presidential elections partly as referenda on the economy. If things are going well, the incumbents usually win. It remains to be seen if this takes Trump across the finish line a second time.

Bill Clinton famously won in 1992 by pointing to the effects of the recession then underway: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Ronald Reagan won in 1980 at the height of the stagflation crisis under President Carter. His reforms stopped inflation, and, while his inflation hawk policies initially set off a deep recession, a roaring recovery began and unemployment dropped by 1984. He won an enormous landslide for his second term, frequently asking during the campaign, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Obama also won reelection in 2012, but the anemic recovery following the stock market crash and recession of 2008 was not the main issue of that election. He later stated that significant economic growth in the future would require a “magic wand.” Hillary defended this mediocre record, emphasizing her ability to be a stable caretaker in the face of a risky Trump. But she did not prevail. Trump’s persona as a brash and successful businessmen combined with his economic and culturally nationalist message exposed the uneven distribution of benefits from Obama’s “tech economy” and commitment to globalism.

Trump’s economic policies have included standard Republican tax cuts, indifference to cutting deficits, and some strong-arm tactics against competitors on trade. He has also reduced the burden of Obama’s aggressive environmental and regulatory policies, as well as the expensive “individual mandate” of Obamacare.

The economy, already in the midst of a mature recovery, has exceeded expectations, with the stock market, unemployment, and wages reaching record highs. If this continues through 2020, he will have the results—relative peace and a strong economy—with which to counter the Democrats’ calls for changing course.
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