President Clinton strategist James Carville was fond of saying that when it came to what matters most in elections, “it’s the economy, stupid.” In his reelection bid, President Trump has to hope that Carville’s adage is not always true. Or at least he has to hope that on Election Day American voters will not ask themselves whether they were economically better off today than they were four years ago. Rather, he must hope that they will ask themselves whether they were better off today than they were six months ago at the pandemic’s economic nadir.
Trump never tires of spinning the narrative that until it was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy was stronger than ever thanks to his efforts at deregulation, his large tax cut and his “America First” trade policy.
Never mind that in his first three years in office, the economy grew at a rate not meaningfully faster than it did under President Obama. Never mind as well that, even before the pandemic, his protectionist trade policies cast a dark cloud over the global economy, while his large unfunded tax cut at a time of record-low unemployment seriously compromised the country’s public finances.
It would be a gross understatement to say that Trump has mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in the country’s worst economic crisis in the past 90 years. He did so by ignoring his health experts’ warnings about the virus’s spread and by heeding instead his economic advisors’ siren call for a premature lifting of the lockdown to revitalize the economy.