Political strategist Karl Rove famously advised attacking an opponent’s strength and turning it into a weakness. Joe Biden should take note.

Polls find President Trump leading Biden in one area. It isn’t character, competence or the coronavirus. It’s the economy.

Trump, of course, trumpets the pre-pandemic economy as the greatest ever. Facts show this isn’t true. And while Trump presents himself as a populist fighting for working Americans, his policies are largely drawn from the traditional conservative playbook and benefit the few. Let’s look at how his promises to forgotten workers have been broken.

Trump promised that his tax cut would benefit working- and middle-class Americans. The average family was supposed to pocket a $4,000 raise. But projections showed that more than 4 of 5 dollars would ultimately go to the richest 1 percent of Americans. Most chief executives used the tax breaks not for new investments but for stock buybacks that bolstered their bonuses. Trump’s tax cut gave companies a lower rate on profits earned abroad, creating incentive to ship jobs overseas.

On jobs, Trump touts the growth recorded before the covid-19 outbreak. In fact, the economy added more jobs during Barack Obama’s final three years than in Trump’s first three years. And Trump’s best year fell far short of jobs growth in Obama’s best year.

For all of Trump’s boasts that jobs are returning, the country is still down about 11.5 million jobs. Temporary furloughs are turning into permanent layoffs; long-term unemployment is rising: Some 29 million Americans were drawing unemployment in mid-August. The previous month, 30 million reported suffering food shortages. Some 30 million to 40 million are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. Trump and Senate Republicans have blocked House efforts to extend federal support to unemployed Americans and to states and localities. Revenue shortages in state and local governments will lead to more job cuts among public employees and cutbacks in public services, all of which will further slow local economies. Trump touted executive orders to extend aid that, in reality, offer little relief; what help there is is short-term.

Trump’s trade policy — a long-overdue revolt against the corporate globalization of the past decades — has been a failure. The renegotiated North American trade pact is basically the old NAFTA warmed over. Trade deficits are higher under Trump, even though imports have fallen with the economic slowdown. U.S. manufacturing struggled even before the pandemic.

On wages, Trump fares no better. He and the Republican Senate oppose raising the minimum wage. They oppose proposals for employer-paid parental leave and sick days. Trump scorns unions and has gutted the National Labor Relations Board, ignoring corporate suppression of union organizing.

On health care, Trump pledged to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a better, and cheaper, program. Even as the Justice Department seeks to repeal Obamacare in the courts, Trump has never offered his much-promised alternative. Meanwhile, the pandemic has stripped an estimated 27 million of health coverage through work.

On education, Trump budgets have consistently proposed deep cuts in student aid programs.

Trump famously promised to drain the Washington swamp. Yet he has packed federal agencies with lobbyists and operatives, some from the interests they are supposed to regulate. His administration has dismantled job safety and health laws, water and air regulations, and protection from toxic waste. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to issue basic standards to protect front-line workers in the pandemic. Meanwhile, Trump lards subsidies on Big Oil and King Coal while denying the reality of climate change.

The results are grim: Unemployment remains high at 8.4 percent, with layoffs and bankruptcies continuing in retail, restaurants and the airline industry. Inequality has reached even more obscene levels. Millions of working Americans have lost their jobs and face eviction or foreclosures. Millions are hungry.

Virginia's moratorium on evictions during the pandemic expired on June 23, rattling renters who lost their jobs because of the crisis. (The Washington Post)

The Biden campaign should be pounding the reality of Trump’s economy over and over again while talking about what Biden would do to create jobs and lift wages. Instead, the Democratic convention focused largely on Trump’s lack of character and empathy. Biden traveled last week to Pennsylvania, where the jobless rate is 13.7 percent, and, as Jane McAlevey reported in the Nation (where I am editorial director), he talked about looting and violence rather than about jobs.

The press has tracked Trump’s lies and distortions, reporting on tell-all books from the president’s relatives and former lawyer. Former administration figures detail Trump’s ignorance and insults. Others — including Obama — bemoan the threat Trump poses to democratic norms. But too many Americans still give Trump unwarranted credit for the economy.

Too many working people believe that while Trump is a cad, he is their cad, on their side. That’s his strength — and it’s where Democrats should focus. Bringing down Trump won’t take lies or exaggerations. Just lay out the truth and hammer it over and over to turn Trump’s “strength” into a weakness.

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