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Trump’s 2020 Path Gets Trickier With Tag as ‘Recession’ President

June 11, 2020by Gregory Korte, Bloomberg News (TNS)
President Donald Trump addresses his impeachment during a Merry Christmas campaign rally at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, MI., in 2019. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)

President Donald Trump faces a new obstacle to his case for reelection: The U.S. is now officially in recession.

The “recession” label made official Monday cements the pain many voters are already feeling from the economy — and will feed into their choice in November for who will be able to steer the economy back.

For Democrat Joe Biden, the proclamation from the National Bureau of Economic Research is further evidence that the economy was on shaky ground even before the worst of the coronavirus hit. Trump, Biden said, has “squandered” the booming economy he inherited from President Barack Obama and himself.

For Trump, the recession declaration came on the first weekday after the May jobs report showed 2.5 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate declined when it was expected to jump. On Friday he touted the numbers as a sign of “the greatest comeback in American history.”

The determination also comes as polls show the president’s standing slipping across the board with the country reeling from the pandemic, its economic impact and racial justice protests. Trump is hoping to regain his footing by relaunching his signature rallies in the coming weeks where he will tout his economic record.

And, while ignoring the recession announcement on his Twitter feed, Trump is maintaining his reelection argument that he built the strong economy once, and he can do it again.

“TRANSITION TO GREATNESS!” he tweeted Tuesday, followed by, “THE REAWAKENING OF AMERICA!”

Biden, for his part, argues that as vice president in 2009 he inherited the recession that began under Republican George W. Bush. He says he led the recovery efforts that began the economic expansion that ended in February and that he can do it again, this time as president.

The question is whether he’ll have enough time to make that transition before voters cast their ballots in November.

A CNN poll released Monday shows voters still give Trump the edge over Biden in managing the economy, 51% to 46%, even though Biden is leading the race by 14 points.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, the official scorekeeper of when business cycles begin and end, said Monday that the recovery that began under Obama concluded its record 128-month run in February.

But the committee also suggested that it may not last, noting that the pandemic has “resulted in a downturn with different characteristics and dynamics than prior recessions.” But there can be no mistake it’s a recession, the committee said, given the “unprecedented magnitude” and “broad reach” of the job losses.

Trump spent most of his presidency taking credit for the booming economy, and now Biden is hanging the recession around his neck.

“The president isn’t responsible for the virus,” Biden said in a statement. “But he is responsible for a completely bungled response that not only cost thousands of lives, but millions more jobs than should have been lost.

“That’s on Donald Trump. It did not have to be this way,” he said.

Trump campaign spokesman Andrew Clark made clear that Trump will continue to run on the economy, recession notwithstanding.

“Biden’s pathetic attempt to argue that the economy was in free fall before the coronavirus is a lie,” he said. “Before the global pandemic, the U.S. economy was delivering explosive wage growth for U.S. workers — including black workers and others who had been left behind when Biden was vice president — and job growth was smashing expectations.”

Job growth and household incomes have the most direct effect on presidential approval ratings — not whether economists say there’s a recession. But recession dates are important to economic historians, who generally believe that Democratic presidents have been better for the economy than Republicans.

Princeton University economist Alan Blinder, a former Federal Reserve vice chairman appointed under President Bill Clinton, used recession dates to make that argument.

Since Harry Truman’s election in 1948, Republicans occupied the White House for 156 quarters, Democrats for 128. In Blinder’s analysis, Democratic presidents have spent an average of one quarter in recession for each term in office. Republicans have spent an average of 4.5 quarters in recession.

Other economists and have noted that Congress and the Federal Reserve have as much control over the economy, and that decisions taken by one president can continue to affect the economy long after they’ve left office.

All that might not matter much to voters, who tend to hold the president responsible for the economy.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s out of the control of the president that influences these things,” said Christopher Wlezien, a University of Texas professor who studies public opinion and the economy. “And voters don’t always discount that stuff.”

———

©2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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