During his first year in office, President Trump talked about the stock markets incessantly. The markets had surged since his election, he would note constantly, putting money into Americans' pockets and retirement plans. (Only about half of Americans, as it turns out, but that’s beside the point.)
But then 2018 happened, and that surge looked more like a Richter-scale reading.
In late December, Trump signed the Republican tax-cut package into law, pledging that it would serve as “rocket fuel” for the economy, giving businesses more money to invest and to hire. As of the close of markets on Tuesday, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones industrial average are at about the same level as they were the day Trump signed that bill into law.
Rocket fuel? That pattern makes the tax cuts look more like flame retardant.
But that’s probably not really what’s going on. The Washington Post’s Tory Newmyer identifies other factors cited by experts, including “fiscal stimulus that is wearing off, fears that companies are overvalued and a sense the economic expansion is running out of steam.” The trade war with China is “only exacerbating investors' jitters.”
Ask Trump what’s happening, though, and you get a different answer.
He tweeted on Tuesday: “The Stock Market is up massively since the Election, but is now taking a little pause - people want to see what happens with the Midterms.”
Last week, his adviser Larry Kudlow put a finer point on it: The markets were worried that Democrats would retake the House.
“I think the stock market is worried that Congress will change and will overturn these pro-growth policies,” Kudlow said.
During 2017, as unemployment numbers continued to slowly work their way lower, the stock markets were Trump’s preferred indicator of the effectiveness of his economic policies. Stock prices, counselor Kellyanne Conway said, were a reflection of the “policies, action, and vision” of Trump.
Now? Not Trump’s fault. When the market saw its first big dip this year, back in February, Trump went even further: The slide in stock prices was also because he was doing so well with the country’s economy.
It’s anathema to a politician to admit blame. How many news cycles over the years have been filled up with elected officials hemming, hawing and misleading before ultimately admitting culpability in some scandal or controversy? In that sense, Trump’s aversion to accepting blame isn’t terribly unusual — but his excuses for avoiding blame often can be.
When Republicans in the House advanced a bill to repeal Obamacare, a bill that the White House insisted it had a hand in, Trump later said the unpopular bill was too “mean.” This was the same bill for which he held a celebratory event in the Rose Garden, embracing House leaders who had assured its passage.
When Republican candidate Ed Gillespie lost his bid for governor in Virginia, despite Trump’s endorsement, Trump was quick with an explanation: Gillespie — who pivoted to a series of ads hyping the criminal gang MS-13 — hadn’t been sufficiently Trump-like to win.
When Congress passed a big spending bill in March, one that the White House touted as “securing funding for priorities that protect and support all Americans,” conservative media were not happy. Trump, when signing the bill, said that there "are a lot of things that I’m unhappy about in this bill” and that he would “never sign another bill like this again.”
Two weeks ago, as Republican odds of holding the House continued to erode, Trump made very clear where the blame should be assigned: elsewhere. This despite polling repeatedly indicating that many voters intend to cast ballots aimed at sending a distinctly anti-Trump message to Washington.
There are no doubt other examples. The economy, though, is the most obvious. Trump repeatedly tied himself to the stock market as an indicator of his own personal success. Once the markets stalled, he and his team insisted that the blame lay elsewhere.
Stocks closed up on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, like clockwork, Trump tweeted.
The stock market is good again.