In short order, President Trump appeared in the Rose Garden to trumpet the good news.
“Moments ago, the numbers for America’s economic growth or GDP were just released,” he said, “and I am thrilled to announce that in the second quarter of this year, the United States economy grew at the amazing rate of 4.1 percent. We’re on track to hit the highest annual average growth rate in over 13 years, and I will say this right now and I will say it strongly, as the trade deals come in one by one, we’re going to go a lot higher than these numbers, and these are great numbers.”
His son Donald Trump Jr. applauded via a tweet.
The president’s central claim is optimistic. His son’s is entirely wrong.
President Trump is looking at the annual change in gross domestic product, a figure that hasn’t topped 3 percent since 2005. The Conference Board projected a 3.1 percent annual growth in 2018 earlier this month — but that assumed 4.2 percent growth this quarter. Economists who spoke with The Washington Post, though, think that for a variety of reasons, including the White House’s announced tariffs, economic growth will be slower in the second half of the year.
Trump’s other assertions, about how the country is going to “go a lot higher than these numbers,” are at odds with independent projections. It’s very Trump, though, to keep pledging more and more.
But let’s address Trump Jr.’s claim, one that will likely get a lot of traction among Trump’s defenders.
On the campaign trail, political observers expressed skepticism about assertions that the country would hit 4 percent growth — annually — not 3 percent in a quarter. Trump Jr., willfully or not, seems to be conflating this quarter’s 4 percent growth with the fact that the economy never grew at a 3 percent annual rate under President Barack Obama. The closest it came was in 2015, when it was at 2.9 percent.
So basically nothing Trump Jr. says is true.
Here’s what quarterly GDP change has looked like since Ronald Reagan.
Trump’s 4.1 percent at far right doesn’t look particularly exceptional in this context. In fact, in the 37 months since Reagan took office in 1981, economic growth has been higher than 4.1 percent in a quarter — including four times under Obama.
CNBC’s John Harwood articulated where this quarter would rank under other recent presidents. It would be:
- The fifth best quarter under Obama
- Tied for the fifth best under George W. Bush
- Tied for the 13th best under Bill Clinton
- Tied for the fifth best under George H.W. Bush
- The 14th best under Reagan
Again: It’s a good number! It’s just not particularly unusual, even when compared with what the country saw under Obama.
It’s important to note, though, that this 4.1 percent figure is not final. There are almost always revisions to initial GDP estimates as more data come in — and usually upward.
To surpass the best quarter under Obama, though — the second quarter of 2014 — it will need to increase by a full percentage point. Unlikely.
To make Trump Jr.’s tweet accurate? History will have to change.