This, in turn, could also serve to highlight one of Trump’s most hideous character failings: His relentless megalomania and dishonesty, which don’t allow for him to admit that anything on his watch is less than stupendously wonderful.
A new ad campaign from the Democratic super PAC American Bridge hints at what this might look like going forward. Politico reports that the group is putting $10 million behind new ads set to run in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — the three “blue wall” states Trump cracked in 2016 — with an eye toward keeping Trump’s margin among working-class whites down.
Given how incredibly close Trump’s victory was in those states — he won them by fewer than 80,000 votes combined — even limited success at reducing Trump’s margin among those voters could make the difference.
But note the argument in the ads. This TV spot shows a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who recounts that he and his neighbors are getting killed by Trump’s trade wars. He then adds this:
I’m struggling to stay alive. My neighbor’s going out of business. And then to have our president say, “Buy a bigger tractor. Everything’s fine now!” I believe the president thinks that we’re expendable — that we can be toyed with, to help him. I voted for Donald Trump in 2016. And I will not vote for Donald Trump again.
Trump recently said that thanks to China’s agricultural purchases, farmers will need “bigger tractors.” This is similar to Trump’s declaration in 2017 that Ohio residents shouldn’t sell their houses, because manufacturing jobs would come roaring back to the state, which was followed in 2019 by a mild manufacturing recession.
A second ad features a Pennsylvania truck driver who says he and his neighbors are getting hammered by the high cost of living, and adds this about Trump: “He cares about himself, and making money, and getting reelected … for him it’s Trump before everything else.”
Notably, both spots seek to demonstrate that Trump’s boasts about the stupendous economy are out of touch with people’s everyday experience of it. But this is more than just an argument that Trump’s economy isn’t matching his promises; it’s also implicitly an argument about Trump’s character.
You may recall that during President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, there was a spirited internal debate that led him to refrain from praising the recovery too openly or forcefully, because his advisers worried that this could alienate voters who were still hurting.
Now try to imagine Trump and his advisers having such a debate. There is no earthly chance that Trump would ever take such advice seriously: Precisely because the economy is his, it must be absolutely wondrous and perfect in every respect, and everyone — especially his own voters — must be doing smashingly great under it.
It’s hard to say whether this is mainly attributable to Trump’s megalomania (which doesn’t permit for anything on his watch to be imperfect in any way), or to his dishonesty (which leads him to distort and mislead endlessly about the economy), or to his administration’s blithe lack of concern for the plight of ordinary people (top officials have absurdly claimed Trump’s trade war is having no impact, despite the pain revealed in statistics).
To be clear, no one should be under any illusions about Trump’s ability to come very close to duplicating his 2016 performance among working-class white voters in the industrial Midwest in 2020. But again, given the closeness of Trump’s victory in the blue-wall states, small shifts could be important.
Given this, one would also expect the argument against Trump on the economy to focus heavily on his and the GOP’s efforts to repeal health coverage for millions and their enormous corporate tax cut, in addition to the wreckage from Trump’s trade wars. Trump, of course, has lied endlessly about those things, too.
Indeed, among still-struggling voters who are not hard partisans but voted for Trump because he seemed like something new, or like an outsider, or like a no-nonsense businessman who would solve their problems, it’s possible an indictment of Trump’s economic performance through the prism of his characterological unwillingness to tell the truth about it could have an impact.