The recent news that the economy only grew 2.3 percent in 2019 has many of Trump’s critics pointing out that he’d promised at least 3 percent a year, and speculating how that hurts his reelection message.
I’m here to tell you it won’t.
The strength of the Trump economy compared to the Obama economy is undeniable. The Obama years were plagued by stagnant wages, high gas prices, and rampant deficit spending, and, of course, low GDP. In fact, Obama is the only president in history to have never had a year of 3 percent growth and was one of the worst presidencies for GDP growth in decades.
Unless I’m forgetting something, that didn’t seem to matter on Election Day 2008. Obama may have won with one less state than he had in 2008, but he still won decisively in the Electoral College.
But, most voters don’t measure the economy by GDP, but by their own circumstances, and according to a new Fox News poll “voters give the economy its best ratings in nearly two decades […] and credit President Trump.” Economists have backed off of predictions of a recession, so as long as people still feel the economy is doing well for them, it stands to benefit Trump significantly in November, regardless of whether GDP hits 3 percent at any point this year.
Barack Obama also made a big promise about the economy. In 2009, he gave himself three years to turn the economy around. “A year from now, I think people are going to see that we’re starting to make some progress, but there’s still going to be some pain out there,” Obama told Matt Lauer on NBC in February 2009. “If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”
Well, in case you forgot, Obama didn’t turn the economy around in three years… or four. In fact, the economy didn’t return to pre-recession employment levels until halfway through Obama’s second term—a second term Obama himself argued he didn’t deserve if he hadn’t fixed the economy. This was after his hugely expensive stimulus package that was supposed to prevent the unemployment rate from going above 8 percent. The unemployment rate actually went above 10 percent despite the promises of the stimulus. By any measure, Obama failed to live up to his promise. The country knew it. Even Obama knew it, as he backtracked on those remarks on the campaign trail, arguing that he knew it would take more than one term to get the economy back on track.
What it actually took to get the economy back on track was the election of Donald Trump, and Democrats hoping to oust him at the ballot box have struggled whether to acknowledge the economy is doing well and credit Barack Obama or argue the economy isn’t doing well at all and blame Trump.
But campaign rhetoric doesn’t change people’s paychecks or bank accounts. Tax cuts and deregulation do—and Trump has done both to the benefit of the ever so important middle class.
Obama infamously argued that two percent real GDP growth was “the new normal for the U.S. economy.” This willingness to accept mediocrity stands in contrast to Trump’s goal of bringing us back to the era where 3 percent growth is the standard. Obama promised he’d get the economy back on track in three years, and failed to do so. Rather than acknowledging that failure, he moved the goalposts and told us we couldn’t do better than what he could deliver. He gave his supporters plenty of reason not to vote for him in 2012, but they did anyway because they believed him when he said we couldn’t do better.
In contrast, Trump aims high, asking us to meet our potential. Whether we meet 3 percent growth or not in 2020 is less important than the fact that Trump has shown us not to accept Obama’s claim that 2 percent is the new normal. Why? Because America is better than that what Obama said it could be.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis