With President Obama's final State of the Union address set for Tuesday, Republican front-runner Donald Trump provided his own assessment of the country: "Right now, the state of our union is a mess."
Trump said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the country is not doing as well as Democrats claim, and he called for a stronger military, better care of military veterans, an alternative to the Affordable Care Act and a firm border. He said the country needs to be "getting better, fast."
Something that Trump didn't explicitly say Sunday but has hammered on the campaign trail is that he thinks the economy also is not doing well, even as the country continues to recover from the recession with an increasing number of jobs and decreasing unemployment rate. Trump has said these are faulty measures that don't capture what life is like for many Americans, especially those who have stopped looking for work or who are stuck in low-quality jobs. He also has said that the dramatic recent decline in the stock market could be the first sign of coming problems.
"We're not doing well, the country is not doing well, and I think now maybe the stock market is catching up with the country," Trump said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on "Sunday Morning Futures" on the Fox News Channel.
He later added: "The economy is not exactly very robust. ... We're sitting on a big, fat, beautiful bubble waiting to explode."
In that interview, Trump called the unemployment rate one of the "phony statistics" used to describe the economy. He said, as he has before, that unemployment rates showing the country at about 5 percent is too low, and it would be closer to 20 percent if it included those who have stopped looking for jobs or are underemployed, an assertion that has been discredited by fact-checkers.
The economy also came up during Trump's appearance on "Meet the Press" when host Chuck Todd asked Trump how he can continue to say the United States is failing compared with China when the country has seen its "best two-year, job creation streak in 20 years." Meanwhile, Todd said, China's economic problems are cratering the U.S. stock market.
Trump pointed to other factors: The country's GDP and levels of productivity, along with the number of workers who haven't had a raise in years, have seen their pay decrease or are working temporary jobs.
"Our economy's doing horribly," Trump said on "Meet the Press." "And you take a look at that jobs report, the jobs report is fiction because all of the people that gave up—"
Todd then cut the candidate off: "It's total fiction? You don't think there's been improvement from the crash?"
Trump responded that the country has recovered "90 percent" but suggested that economies sometimes naturally straighten themselves and that more improvement is needed. Trump described China's recent problems as simply a "digestion problem" and that its economy continues to grow at a much quicker rate. In several interviews Sunday, Trump said the United States has power over China that it needs to use to its advantage.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was also on "Meet the Press" on Sunday and responded to Trump's assessment of the state of the union.
"You know, it's hard to desegregate him and all the other candidates out there seeming to run down America," McDonough said. "I don't really get it. What I see is an America that's surging: 292,000 new jobs just the other day, the fastest reduction in unemployment in more than three decades over the last two years and the biggest job growth in two years since the 1990s, when there also happened to be a Democrat in the White House."
Todd asked McDonough what he meant by "run down America" and whether he believes Republicans are being too pessimistic.
"Well, you can decide for yourself," McDonough said. "You just saw the same thing I did."