Judd Gregg: It's not the economy, stupid ... yet

Judd Gregg: It's not the economy, stupid ... yet
© Greg Nash - UPI Photo

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFederal judge changes his mind about stepping down, eliminating vacancy for Biden to fill Joe Biden's gamble with history Can America prevent a global warming cold war? MORE’s 1992 presidential campaign made famous the saying “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The slogan represented the conventional wisdom of political consultants: when people vote, their first and foremost concerns are often about the economy.

To be more precise, they are concerned about their economic wellbeing, which is usually tied to the wellbeing of the general economy.

ADVERTISEMENT

This makes a great deal of sense.

If a person is fearful about keeping his or her job, this will definitely affect how they vote.

If a person is not sure how they will make their mortgage payments or is worried about the costs of sending their children to school or simply feels financially insecure, this will be the dominant element in deciding their vote.

Self-interest is a huge motivator when it comes to how someone acts, especially when the economy is not doing well.

As many politicians have shown, invoking the importance of the economy and expressing a personal commitment to making it better is an effective road to election.

This is especially true when a candidate is challenging an incumbent. The folks in power are always easy targets for folks out of power when the economy is the issue.

But what happens when the economy is strong, or at least pretty good?

“It’s the economy, stupid” loses its resonance.

We live in a time of short attention spans. This is true across the spectrum of American life, but nowhere is it truer then in the realm of elections.

People pay little attention to history in casting a vote and even less attention to future predictions. They vote the moment.

Today, the economy is moving rather well. We have the lowest unemployment rate in decades. We have personal incomes increasing for the first time this century.

The new tax law is causing massive amounts of investment capital to return to the United States, boosting our growth.

Things are fairly good.

It is not a time of “It’s the economy, stupid."

Thus, when you hear that Republicans will run on the strong economy as their ticket to retaining control of the House and Senate in November’s midterm elections, one has to scratch one’s head and say,  “That is stupid.”

It is of course something to take credit for, this good time. But will it be the primary factor in how people vote? That is unlikely.

The voters will not be worried by a good economy.  They will move on to other issues when they go into the polling place because when the economy is good, it is not a determinative event; it is a taken for granted event.

The determinative issues will be something else. They are difficult to predict and they may involve a scattering of concerns. 

There is one common denominator, though: the visibility of President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE and Congress.

Even when the economy is good, people want to look to the president as the definer of hope and purpose for the nation.

They would also like to think of Congress as a positive force.

Without the economy as the motivator, a great many people’s votes will turn on their confidence in the leadership of the president and Congress.

With the president’s disapproval rating at sixty percent  and Congress doing even worse,  it is difficult to claim that a good economy will be the driving issue.

That means Republicans are, stated simply, in trouble.

Democrats are also in trouble. They have decided to abandon the basic tenets that the American dream is built upon, instead embracing socialism.

But since they are out of power, and since no one follows history and the disastrous track record of socialism, they can escape attention.

Not so the Republicans.

They are in power. Folks will hold them accountable if they are deemed to be leaders without grace or a purpose most can identify with.

And this is exactly where they find themselves.

This is in part a consequence of the erratic and chaotic nature of the president’s style of leadership.

But it is also a consequence of how Republicans in Congress have turned over their agenda to the most intolerant members of the party.

The Republican Congress simply has not had leaders who are willing to confront those members of the party who believe that you can govern by shouting inanities from the corner of the ring.

This can, of course, be corrected. There is time.

Thoughtful and conservative lawmakers, especially in the Senate, can band together and start speaking as one.

They need to address the president’s inconsistent and debilitating rhetoric.

They need to put forth a platform of reform that will be seen as refreshing and positive by center-right Americans.

This is still the majority of the electorate.

These proposals should grab the constructive, conservative high ground on issues such as education, technology, defense and immigration.

Alternatively, we can just let our president and the Stephen Bannon acolytes who surround him continue their march toward ever-larger trade wars with our most important allies.

This will certainly lead to a significant economic slowdown, and possibly even a recession.

It will also allow the next election to turn on the battle cry of “It’s the economy, stupid” after all.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.