In his rally in Florida, President Trump lied and dissembled a whole lot about the economy. Trump spent some time lying about the current state of the economy, but crucially, he also did a lot of lying about the role of his policies in creating that economy.
That distinction points to a big disconnect in public opinion that is likely preoccupying his advisers: While majorities see the economy as good, far fewer voters credit Trump for it.
All the lies and distortions in Florida were likely about closing this gap, and the question of whether Democrats can successfully exploit that gap will loom large in 2020.
First, let’s look at the lies and misleading statements themselves.
Trump claimed “we are taking in billions and billions of dollars” due to his China tariffs, and dismissed the notion that they’re forcing U.S. consumers to pay more. Trump also asserted that thanks to his tariffs, “American steel mills are roaring back to life.”
Trump claimed that due to his presidency, “many, many” auto plants are being built in (now here’s a shocking coincidence) at least five swing states he needs for reelection. He asserted a dramatic turnaround in manufacturing jobs.
Finally, Trump insisted that he signed the “largest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history” and vowed to “always protect patients with preexisting conditions.”
Many of these claims are false or badly distorted, as Salvador Rizzo demonstrates in a bracing fact-check. Studies show consumers are paying substantially more due to the tariffs, which are not paid by China, despite Trump’s suggestions otherwise.
There are signs that demand for steel may be flagging. Trump’s claim about new auto plants is a serious exaggeration. Manufacturing has rebounded, but that began before he took office and the turnaround is not nearly as dramatic as Trump claims.
Trump is lying about the scale of his tax cuts. On top of that, the vast bulk of its benefits went to top earners, and whatever meager gains others received are getting wiped out by the tariffs. Trump aggressively championed repealing Obamacare and its protections for preexisting conditions, and is backing a lawsuit that would do away with them.
The twin pillars of Trumponomics
Trump wants to recapture that 2016 economic populist magic again in 2020, despite having sold out that promise (except perhaps on trade) by fully embracing conventional GOP economic orthodoxy (tax cuts, deregulation, failed Obamacare repeal) in office.
The result has been a fusion of conventional GOP plutocracy with select lurches in a nationalist direction. The plutocracy is more than betrayal. It’s now integral to Trumponomics, which partly subsists on GOP and big donor support. The nationalist lurches provide the populist cover for the plutocracy.
But, even as majorities appear relatively happy about the economy, both of these Trumpian pillars (the tax cuts and Obamacare repeal on one side, and the trade policies on the other) have proved deeply unpopular.
Trump’s answer has been to falsify the plutocratic dimensions of the policies in the former category while falsifying the impact of the policies in the latter one. The story Trump is telling is that the tax cuts caused an explosion of growth and wages (they didn’t) and that his protectionism is bringing Trump country roaring back, while shaking down other countries for the money they supposedly ripped off (as noted above, it is not).
But as aggressively as he does this, there are clear signs the public isn’t buying that story.
Little credit for economy
Recent polling sheds light on why. A new Fox News poll finds that 57 percent of voters feel optimistic about the economy, but only 31 percent say Trump’s economic policies are benefiting everyone, while 48 percent say they’re benefiting people with more money than them.
Meanwhile, a recent Quinnipiac poll finds that 70 percent of voters rate the economy positively — but only 41 percent say Trump deserves credit. And another Quinnipiac poll found similar positive ratings of the economy, but only small minorities say Trump’s trade and China policies are beneficial.
As Paul Krugman details, Trump’s plutocratic and nationalist policies have both failed to deliver for Trump’s core supporters. That’s important for 2020, but there’s another important angle here as well: how Trump’s economic policies are playing among the voters Republicans lost in 2018 and that Trump badly needs to win back.
In an important analysis of expected 2020 turnout, Ron Brownstein spells out Trump’s challenges. There’s a reasonable chance that blue- collar whites will decline as a share of the vote in 2020, relative to 2016, even as minorities and college-educated whites keep edging upwards in vote share.
Yes, many of us predicted that there weren’t enough blue-collar whites for Trump to win in 2016, and that was wrong. And even some Democrats now believe that caution is in order. But as Brownstein shows, the 2018 elections did demonstrate that these demographic trends are continuing inexorably, and why that could exacerbate Trump’s difficulties if alienation from him continues to run deep among educated and suburban white voters.
GOP operatives appear to hope that Trump will recapture those voters, because they’ll be happy about the economy (they are more affluent, after all) and won’t want to risk changing course.
But those voters are not giving credit for the economy to Trump, either. The Fox poll finds a plurality of college-educated whites say Trump’s policies benefit people with more money than them. And Quinnipiac finds that only a minority of those voters give Trump credit for the economy, while large majorities of them disapprove of Trump on trade.
How much all this means remains to be seen. But this big disconnect on the economy helps explain why Trump keeps lying so much about it.