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To beat Trump, Democrats need to win on the economy

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The three Democratic presidential debates have been notable for the discussion of comprehensive policy proposals that would profoundly transform the American economy. “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal are vital to the future and well-being of the United States, but they have crowded out discussions of issues of immediate concern to working families like the need for a livable wage, affordable childcare and retirement security.

Both programs address urgent national problems and deserve attention. The United States is facing a health care crisis and the world is already suffering from the ravages of climate change.

But Democrats may be missing the trees for the forest.

The two proposals require transformative changes in an economy that is badly in need of radical change if the United States is to maintain its status as an international economic superpower. But the American economy is slipping under President Trump — after years of growth during the Obama administration — and requires a change in the Democratic approach to discussing economic problems.

Up until recently, approval of the president’s handling of the economy was the biggest, maybe the only issue asset he had for his reelection campaign. But factories have closed, and farms have gone under.

Trump won the White House in 2016 with electoral votes from the Midwest. But because of the president’s self-destructive trade war against China, factories in Michigan are empty of activity and silos in Iowa are full of unsold soybeans. The economy in the Midwest is sliding along with Trump’s prospects for winning a second term.

The damage that the president has done to the U.S. economy, Americans and himself during the summer are clear from a new national survey conducted for The Washington Post and ABC News and a previous survey by both news organizations in July.

Back in July a clear majority of Americans approved of the president’s handling of the economy (51 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove). In the new survey, his approval rating on the economy was significantly weaker (46 percent approve and 47 percent disapprove).

The new poll reveals that six out of every 10 (60 percent) Americans believe that a recession is likely. Most economists feel the same way. In this survey, only four-tenths (39 percent) of the public approves of his presidency.

Trump is cruising towards a bruising. His approval rating on economic issues is the best rating he gets on any issue and now it’s almost underwater. If economic growth continues to slow, what that will stop the president’s support from bottoming out next year during the fall campaign?

The ascension in the support for the Democratic president candidates reflects the decline in the president’s approval ratings. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads Trump by 15 percent (55 percent to 40 percent), while Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (52 percent to 43 percent) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) (51 percent to 44 percent) lead the incumbent by 9 percent and 7 percent respectively.

Democrats need to adjust on the fly take advantage of his vulnerability. The party’s candidates need a practical plan to address a possible recession that will demand immediate attention from voters.

Trump is running the American economy back into the Bush era ditch and in order to convince Americans that they can get it moving again, Democrats must discuss things that a new president can do to jump start it quickly while she or he works on long term economic transformation.

The Green New Deal and Medicare for All could stimulate economic growth in the long run after a fight in Congress that could take years. The battle over passage of the Affordable Care Act started 2009 and 10 years later the dust still hasn’t settled.

But the clock is ticking on the economy as recovery turns into recession. Economic anxiety will increase as the economy declines. Democrats must address short-term economic proposals because Americans won’t be patient enough to tolerate prolonged partisan pitch battles while they suffer.

Here’s what Democrats can do.

There is a screaming need for better mass transit and roads and bridges. A massive infrastructure program was the Obama stimulus that jump started the U.S. economy after the Wall Street crash under Republican President George W. Bush.

The Green New Deal is being sold as a program that can fight climate change and create new jobs . But back in July New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s then chief of staff Salkat Chakrabarti said “we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the entire economy thing.”

The economy does need restructuring and the infrastructure part of the Green New Deal is a good place to start. The decline in the economy means that it should be sold as a proposal that can quickly create good jobs and address the climate crisis too.

You rarely hear any discussion of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour during the debates, helping working families with day care or erasing the GOP tax cuts for corporate America and giving them to working families instead.

If Democratic candidates don’t address the growing public anxiety about the economy, the party will be caught flatfooted next year when public confidence tanks. Everybody, including the public would be better off if the contenders talked about the things that could help Americans survive the coming recession. Americans will be looking for immediate relief and Democrats better to ready to offer it if they hope to win in 2020.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

Tags 2020 election Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Brad Bannon campaign Democrats Donald Trump economy Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden

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