Rebutting Trump's Final Economic Argument

Trump wants to make the final days about the "record" GDP number, here's how to push back

During Barack Obama’s first term, there was no day that brought more anticipation and dread than “Jobs Day.” On the first Friday of every month, the Labor Department releases the monthly unemployment numbers. Given the historical correlation between the state of the economy and the reelection prospects of incumbent presidents, every “Jobs Day" brought a tidal wave an anxiety. A better than expected result would often kick off a period of positive press coverage. A disappointing number would launch countless predictions of doom from political pundits.

At some point in 2011, David Plouffe, Obama’s political strategist, mentioned in a meeting that there would be a “Jobs Day” on the Friday before the 2012 election. I thought about that fact several times a day, every day for well over a year. I was deeply concerned that an underwhelming number of jobs created or an increase in the unemployment rate could tip the race to Mitt Romney in the final days. It was our last hurdle (spoiler alert: it was fine, Obama won).

While Team Obama dreaded that final “Jobs Day,” Team Trump has been yearning for today’s announcement of the quarterly figures for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP is a broad measure of the health of the economy.

On the surface, the announcement was exactly what Trump desperately wanted. In the third quarter of 2020, the U.S. economy grew at a record 33 percent annual rate. This eye-popping number is highly deceptive and doesn’t at all mean what Trump is going to claim. Former Obama Administration economist Betsey Stevenson has a good explanation in this thread. GDP is still down nearly 3 percent from a year ago.

Trump’s campaign circled this day on the calendar months ago. They previewed to reporters that this expected bit of “good” news could be a turning point in the race. Today’s GDP announcement is their last chance to close on a high note by turning the conversation back to the economy.

I am skeptical this gambit will work amidst a spike in COVID cases across the nation, but we should be ready nonetheless.

Why Trump Want’s to Talk About the Economy

At the beginning of the year, Trump had a significant advantage on the economy. Buoyed by his fake reputation as a successful businessman and the fact that he had not yet fucked up the Obama’s economy, a majority of Americans including a decent number of Democrats approved of his handling of the economy. Since the pandemic hit, America has entered a historic recession, millions have lost their jobs, and eight million Americans have been pushed into poverty. Yet, the economy is still Trump’s strongest issue.

In the Crooked Media/Change Research Pollercoaster poll released yesterday, Trump’s economic approval rating was 50 percent. A stunning number in a poll where only 43 percent of voters support Trump. In the most recent CNN poll, voters trust Trump over Biden on the economy 51-47, which is an improvement of four points for Trump since the previous CNN poll (although that is all within the margin of error). Before anyone starts panicking, I would note two things. First, the polling has been all over the map on the economy. Biden led Trump on the economy 45-44 on the economy in a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll. Second, Biden has come a long way on the economy in a short period of time. He trailed Trump on the economy by a large margin in most polls earlier this year, but is now close to even. And fighting Trump to a draw on Trump’s best issue is a huge win for Biden.

While Trump’s economic advantage has eroded, it is still the issue on which he wants to close the campaign. Frankly, Trump would rather talk about literally anything else under the sun than his handling of the pandemic. In that CNN poll, voters trust Biden over Trump to handle that pandemic by a margin of 57-39. Therefore, he desperately wants to change the subject.

The GDP announcement gives him that opportunity.

How to Push Back

As I wrote in yesterday’s Message Box, what voters hear down the stretch can matter a lot. The intense, Jim Comey-assisted focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails probably tipped the race to Trump in 2016. I suspect the Trump campaign is going to put a lot of messaging firepower behind promoting these GDP numbers as proof that Trump is the best person is lead the economic recovery. Here are some tips for rebutting that argument based on recent polling from Democratic campaigns and PACs.

  1. Tie the Economy to COVID: Trump’s failure to prepare for and respond to the pandemic is his greatest political weakness. Every message must flow from that obvious and widely believed truth — especially on the economy.

    We cannot fix the economy until we get the virus under control. Donald Trump ignores the advice of scientists, failed to prepare for the pandemic, and continues to downplay its seriousness. The economy is bouncing back faster in other countries around the world because they are doing a better job of controlling the virus. Donald Trump won’t even try to control the virus, Joe Biden has a plan to do it.

  2. Put Trump’s Economic Accomplishments in Context: Donald Trump is the worst jobs President in American history. Even before the pandemic hit, the Trump economy was performing worse than the Obama economy. Here’s a very important fact to share with voters:

    America created 1.5 million more jobs in the last three years of the Obama/Biden administration than in the first three years of the Trump Administration.

    The below graphic from the Center for American Progress Action Fund is a great asset to post on social media or text to undecided voters that think Trump is some sort of economic superhero.

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  3. Compare Plans: Previous polling from Crooked Media and Change Research has shown that educating voters about Biden’s economic plan is the best way to persuade them. Below is a message that tested very well with undecided voters in the September Pollercoaster poll:

    Donald Trump says the economy is great because the stock market is up, and wants to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in order to fund more tax cuts for the rich. Joe Biden says a strong economy depends on a strong middle class, and wants only the wealthiest one percent to pay higher taxes so we can expand health coverage, invest in clean energy and infrastructure, and create five million manufacturing and technology jobs.

    This graphic from Crooked Media delivers a version of that poll-tested message in an easily sharable graphic form

    Trump wants to use the GDP number as his closing message. Joe Biden and the Democrats can win this last round of the economic fight. If we push back hard and rebut Trump’s last argument, we will win this election. It’s really as simple as that.

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