The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Obama economy is trouble for Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)
Placeholder while article actions load

A slew of bad economic headlines last week made it official: The Obama economy has failed. As noted in the Wall Street Journal, “Even seven years after the recession ended . . . in terms of average annual growth, the pace of this expansion has been by far the weakest of any since 1949.” The economy has grown at an annual rate of only 2.1 percent since the recession ended in June 2009, compared with annual growth of 4.3 percent during the economic expansion from 1982 to 1990. So what does this mean for Hillary Clinton? Let’s remember, economic circumstances produce political consequences. As I have said before, if we had better economic growth under President Obama, we wouldn’t have Donald Trump today. Despite all the headlines surrounding the lunacy coming from Trump, at the end of the day, economic issues are what drive votes.

Notwithstanding all the happy talk about the economy from the Democrats, Gallup found that 60 percent of Americans think economic conditions in this country are “getting worse.” That’s 60 percent of people who will be resistant to Clinton’s economic plans. Americans can see what is happening. The typical American might not be able to quote statistics about how if the labor force participation rate were the same today as it was when Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 9.2 percent instead of 4.9 percent or rattle off statistics about the decline in median household income under President Obama, but they can tell you firsthand about small businesses that have closed in their communities, friends who can’t find work, and their own financial struggles. And nothing they hear from Clinton makes them believe things are going to get better.

Clinton was forced to embrace all things Obama to win the Democratic nomination, so she is stuck with his economy. I can’t imagine a worse scenario for a Democrat less than four months before any election, especially as economic growth remains so weak. But then I remember the Republican nominee is Trump. If there were any wisdom in the Trump campaign, it would take a page from the playbook of fellow New Yorker George Pataki. In the 1994 gubernatorial election, when Republican George Pataki beat Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, Pataki didn’t overwhelm Cuomo; he was just the person in the race who wasn’t Cuomo. A lot of voters didn’t really know who Pataki was. He turned out to be a very effective, distinguished governor, but as a candidate in the 1994 race, he was virtually unknown. Pataki was low-key, non-controversial and unobjectionable — in fact, he was downright quiet. Obviously, Trump isn’t any of those things. His pathetic need to be the center of attention is a distraction, to say the least. Trump isn’t letting the bad economy take hold of the 2016 election and make him the favorite. He doesn’t just take the bait from the Democrats, he spends his whole day chewing on the bait. Trump doesn’t have much to say that isn’t provoked by the Democrats.

Some voters will care about plans, policies, experience and character, and among those voters, Trump will likely get blown away. But if the state of the economy controls the outcome of the election, Clinton could have a big problem on her hands.