The Memo

The Memo: GOP seeks lift from Trump economy

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President Trump is overseeing a robust economy — and receiving little political dividend for it.

Now, the question is whether the near-certain passage of a tax-reform bill this week will change that or whether widespread opposition to Trump is a semi-permanent part of the political landscape.

Trump’s approval rating is the lowest of any president at this time in his tenure since modern polling began. In the RealClearPolitics average as of Monday afternoon, 37.9 percent of the electorate gives him the thumbs-up but 57.1 percent disapprove of his job performance.

That finding comes in the face of a plethora of positive economic data. 

{mosads}The Dow Jones industrial average has risen more than 35 percent since Trump’s election. It closed at 18,332 on Election Day last year and at 24,792 on Monday. 

The unemployment rate has ticked down from 4.8 percent in the month of Trump’s inauguration to 4.1 percent last month. 

Overall economic expansion has been strong, with gross domestic product growth running at about 3 percent on an annualized basis in both the most recent quarters.

On Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders retweeted a CNBC tweet that noted the Dow has risen by 5,000 points within a calendar year for the first time ever. Sanders proclaimed this “The @realDonaldTrump effect.”

But a large swath of the population seems to disagree. The evidence is seen not only in Trump’s low approval ratings, but in recent election results that have frayed Republican nerves and buoyed Democratic spirits. 

Democrats say the dynamic is simple: Trump’s unconventional, fractious style dominates voters’ minds more than an economy that, they say, has stayed on the same general trajectory established in the latter part of former President Obama’s tenure. 

Unemployment from the Great Recession peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, Obama’s first year in office. It had been more than halved, to 4.8 percent, by the time he left the White House. The Dow more than doubled during Obama’s tenure.

When it comes to Trump, voters “don’t think he created this economy,” said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. “People think he is unqualified to be president, out of control, fundamentally not presidential and maybe even dangerous.”

There is also the question of whether people’s overall view of the economy has shifted, whatever the official indicators say. 

The widely used consumer sentiment index calculated by the University of Michigan shows small declines in two of the three categories it measures — consumer sentiment and consumer expectations — since a year ago. The third category, the public’s assessment of current economic conditions, has ticked up modestly.

Allies of the president insist that he will eventually receive popular credit for the prevailing economic conditions. They say Trump has already helped juice the economy by cutting back on regulations, and they insist this effect will be amplified by the tax-reform plan. 

In essence, their argument is that Trump will own the economy once the tax-reform bill becomes law. 

Andrew Surabian, a senior adviser to a pro-Trump outside group, Great America Alliance — and a close ally of erstwhile chief strategist Stephen Bannon — said it is unreasonable to expect that economic growth would instantly translate into political popularity. 

He also emphasized that voters would not necessarily see the concrete benefits from tax reform in their paychecks until they file their 2018 tax returns in early 2019.

“It’s always a lagging indicator,” Surabian told The Hill. “It takes time for people to feel the good news happening in the economy.” 

Over time, he added, “what he is doing will take full effect.”

Danger for the Republican Party arises if those feel-good sensations fail to manifest themselves before the midterm elections IN November, however. Behind the scenes, Republican incumbents and their aides are pinning their hopes on a strong economy overcoming Trump’s polarizing political persona.

It is not necessarily a bad bet, according to some independent experts.

“If the economy continues on the path that it seems to be on, then that does look pretty good in a midterm election — at least when it comes to limiting losses,” said Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University.

Reeher added that the deficit-raising element of the tax-reform plan — it is projected to increase the federal deficit by about $1.5 trillion over a decade — would not necessarily be the political millstone around the GOP’s neck that some Democrats would like to think.

“No one’s ever lost an election on the deficit or the debt,” Reeher said. “If the economy continues to rebound more strongly and voters start focusing on what they are getting out of the tax cut, that can be a powerful combination. To me, it’s not clear that we are headed for the [Democratic] tidal wave that some folks are predicting.”

Trump’s backers have a more pronounced view of the disconnect between economic strength and polling weakness. They blame a hostile media for, as they see it, assailing the president day after day and presenting the most negative possible interpretation of his every move.

Some believe the passage of tax reform will be a rebuttal to one of the more damaging narratives — that Trump has not been able to rack up legislative accomplishments despite having Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that a newspaper headline doesn’t take a shot at the president’s legislative accomplishments or lack thereof,” said Jason Miller, who served as senior communications adviser on the Trump campaign. “Now, that all goes away.”

Miller, like many in Trump’s orbit, evinces confidence that it will all come right in the end.

“If the economy keeps not just humming but soaring, I think voters will give President Trump credit for that and put him in much better shape,” he said.

But if that proves wrong, the outlook for Trump and his party looks bleak.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

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