President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE is doubling down on his bet that a strong economy is a key factor in his reelection effort next year.
The White House has held a series of events and interviews for Trump this week that are intended to show off his record.
The president met Thursday with CEOs at the Business Roundtable, one day after he extolled his dealmaking prowess to a group of workers at a factory in Lima, Ohio. He also sat down for an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo.
Trump hasn’t been able to completely stay on message. In Lima, he blasted the deceased Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.), detracting from the economic message his administration has clearly sought to lay out during a week where the Congress is on recess.
But in general, the White House has spent the week painting the picture of an economy being rewarded by Trump’s policies. And Trump has telegraphed the message he wants to deliver in 2020: that no matter who you are, you’re in a better place than you were four years ago.
“It's going to be really easy on the debate stage when they hit me with nonsense and I say, 'Really? But African-American unemployment — the best it's ever been,’” he said in Lima. “Hispanic, Asian, women, everybody — it’s all the best it’s ever been.”
“How do you top that in a debate?” he said. “What are they going to say?”
White House officials regularly compare their own metrics favorably to the Obama administration. Trump this week cited a CNN survey that showed 71 percent of respondents feel the U.S. economy is in good shape, even though the poll put his approval rating at 42 percent.
Trump’s media blitz also appears designed to counter any doubters about the economy — a full-court press likely to increase in importance.
For while the economy has been generally strong under Trump, there are growing concerns in economic circles about a downturn.
Forecasts released this week from the Federal Reserve and the Business Roundtable put a slight damper on the economic outlook for the rest of the year. While the U.S. economy remains strong, according to those groups, growth is projected to slow slightly in 2019.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the U.S. economy “is in a good place,” citing low unemployment and strong consumer confidence levels, among other indicators. Still, the Fed downgraded its projections of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2019 from 2.3 percent in December to 2.1 percent.
The Business Roundtable, a coalition of CEOs from top American companies, offered a similar assessment in its first quarter outlook. The organization lowered its GDP growth estimate from 2.7 percent to 2.5 percent, but was otherwise sanguine about various economic markers.
“From the standpoint of our CEOs, the tide is still running very strongly positively,” Josh Bolten, president & CEO of the organization, told reporters. “But our CEOs, I believe, are taking account of slowing growth elsewhere around the world, and some geopolitical uncertainty.”
Trump’s presidency has been dotted with controversies, and he is a polarizing figure. As such, his political fortunes may be even more tied to the economic winds.
“I think his reelection bid will live or die based on the economy,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics.
Several variables could either sink the U.S. economy or boost it to greater heights between now and the 2020 election — particularly trade.
The administration is in the midst of trade negotiations with China, and Congress has yet to pass the recently renegotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerBob LighthizerBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' MORE met Thursday with members of the Business Roundtable. The event was closed to press, but Bolten told reporters a day earlier that CEOs are “cautiously optimistic” about a deal with China.
Zandi suggested that there was “limited upside” for the economy for the next two years, and that Trump would need to focus on limiting any potential damage. Brokering a deal with China will be paramount in that effort, he said.
“If [Trump] finds a face-saving arrangement out of this then the economy will be OK,” he said. “If he does what he did in North Korea and walks away and raises tariffs, then we’re done. We’re going into recession.”
Democrats aren’t betraying worries about running against Trump’s economic record.
Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, suggested that Trump's opponent could respond that many Americans still struggle to pay for health care, college tuition and other expenses, even in a growing economy.
He further cast doubt on whether Trump has the discipline to hammer home an economic message to voters in the Rust Belt, which will be key to his reelection bid.
“It seems to me if he goes up and makes a campaign trip somewhere in Ohio, he’s just as likely to spend his time ranting about immigrants rather than talking about improvements in the economy,” Bannon said.
A similar script played out during the 2018 midterm campaign, when Trump trained his message around a caravan of Central American migrants despite GOP candidates attempting to sell the party's tax cuts and economic gains.
While Republicans protected the Senate, Democrats ultimately flipped 40 House seats and gained the majority in the chamber.
Zandi cautioned that the next two years will be more difficult than Trump's first two as the stimulus from his tax cuts starts to wear off.
But the president and his advisers have insisted that's not the case. Their optimism about the economy has been built around a narrative similar to Trump's own victory in 2016: that he defied experts who predicted a drop-off in performance.
“The people who were criticizing us were wrong the last time. So how many years in a row do we have to be right before they question their models?” White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett told Fox News.
“I think that really what it is is it’s kind of a partisan thing,” he added. “President Obama’s team, they pushed really bad policies that gave us really low growth, and they said ‘oh it’s not the policies it’s like this new economy we have, the new normal.’ And our view is it’s the policies. We fixed the policies, growth is back, I think it kind of proves that we're correct.”