Juan Williams: Trump, false promises and the economy

Juan Williams: Trump, false promises and the economy
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“It’s the economy, stupid!” That was Democratic strategist James Carville’s famous bottom line on the 1992 presidential election.

Fast forward to 2016 and once again it looks like “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMcAuliffe says he won't run for president in 2020 Chuck Todd slams reports that DOJ briefed Trump on Mueller findings: 'This is actual collusion' Crowdfund campaign to aid historically black churches hit by fires raises over M MORE, the likely Democratic nominee for president, is more trusted than her Republican rival to handle terrorism, income inequality, healthcare and immigration.

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But when it comes to the economy, a CNN/ORC poll released earlier this month gave the advantage to Republican billionaire businessman Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report MORE.

Meanwhile, a recent battery of Quinnipiac polls in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, critical swing states, found Trump holding leads over Clinton ranging from 9 points to 14 points as the candidate better trusted to lead the economy.

Nationwide, the economy is the number one issue for voters.

Trump is winning their confidence without specific economic proposals. So far voters are simply cheering his promise to bring back jobs in manufacturing and coal mining while ending trade deals that allow big companies like Nabisco to leave the USA to make cookies with cheaper workers in Mexico.

His backers also cheer when he says — again minus any plan — that he will build a wall and deport illegal immigrants. Part of his reasoning is that this will improve the job market for blue-collar workers.

The applause continues when Trump excoriates Clinton and President Obama for increased environmental regulation of the coal, oil and gas industries.

Trump’s message echoes the dismal economic drumbeat on conservative talk radio, television and web sites. Among the right-wing faithful, Obama is considered a failure for his handling of the economy. 

The only problem here is the facts. 

Since Obama took office in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the economy has added over 14.6 million private sector jobs. There have been 75 straight months of private job growth.

The current unemployment rate is 5 percent; effectively full employment. In March 2016, the labor force participation rate — people with jobs and people looking for work because they believe they can find a job — was at its highest level in almost two years.

Those good numbers reflect the reality that, for the last seven months, the unemployment rate has been at its lowest levels since before the 2008 financial collapse.  

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ and the Wilshire 5000 have all more than doubled since Obama became president. He has done all of this while reducing the federal deficit by nearly $1 trillion. Yes, Obama reduced the federal deficit.  

A New York Times magazine profile of the president last month began with Obama lamenting that his indisputably successful efforts to revive the economy after the 2008 financial crisis are ignored amid the partisan politics of 2016. 

“I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” Obama told the Times. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.”

Those comments caught the eye of George Washington University political science professor John Sides.

“In an age of polarization, Americans may give little credit to a president not of their own party,” Sides wrote on the Washington Post website.

“A good comparison is again to the last quarter of 1983, when consumer sentiment was essentially the same as at the end of 2015. At that point in time, 87 percent of Republicans approved of President Ronald Reagan, as did 30 percent of Democrats. At the end of 2015, Obama’s support in his own party was almost as high, 79 percent, but it was much lower among Republicans, 10 percent —exactly where it had been for almost six years.”

Sides’s analysis fits with the president’s assessment of why there is a lack of acclaim for his economic success. Obama told the Times that voters’ attitudes about the economy reflect leading GOP voices constantly telling the party’s base “that things are terrible all the time.”

Meanwhile, Trump is refusing to release his tax returns even as he brags that he has made billions. And he startled financial markets recently when he said that, if elected president, he might not pay back the nation’s debts. He then had to walk away from those words.

"I'm the king of debt,” Trump said. “I understand debt probably better than anybody. I know how to deal with debt very well. I love debt.

"This is the United States government,” he explained. “You never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you. Okay, so there’s never a default." 

Clinton’s campaign cited Trump’s comments as evidence that he is in over his head when it comes to economics. 

But even conservative economists are horrified at the prospect of Trump as the chief steward of the American economy. 

“In all my years as an economist… I have never seen such nonsense as we just heard from Mr. Trump and it breaks my heart, it makes me want to cry,” economist and comedian Ben Stein said on television. 

Tony Fratto, an official in George W. Bush’s Treasury Department, tweeted about Trump’s comments on the debt: “Dumb as a bucket of rocks.”

And yet Trump’s simple bluster has voters preferring him to Clinton when it comes to the economy. These are strange political times.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, "We The People," published by Crown, is out now.