The President elected two years ago to revive American prosperity is now presiding over an economic boom. The first two years of the Trump era have been so good that his predecessor has lately been barnstorming the country trying to persuade voters that we’re still living in the Obama era. It is the sincerest form of political flattery. But as good as the economy is, rising optimism among voters is not just about the money.
Left-leaning economists continue to downplay the success of the Trump economic program and say that the good times won’t last much longer, but their case is getting harder to make. After Friday’s release of October employment data from the Labor department, Jared Bernstein, a former top economic adviser to Joe Biden, acknowledged on Twitter:
Pretty much everything you could want in a monthly jobs report. Payroll gains way better than expected, nice pop in labor force participation, wage growth continues to strengthen, finally beating inflation (real gains!). Score 1 for “room-to-run” crowd!
But do Republican congressional majorities have room to run? Will a thriving economy translate into success for the President’s party in Tuesday’s elections? Today the Drudge Report is linking to a series of stories questioning the political value of prosperity.
“Hot economy is cold comfort for Republicans in tight U.S. races,” announces a Reuters headline. Jonathan Spicer and Ann Saphir report:
Trump gets high marks for his management of the economy, and in two-thirds of the 60 most competitive House districts incomes were higher than the national median in 2017. Yet even in areas where incomes grew the strongest since Trump’s inauguration… polls show voters mostly split or leaning toward the Democrats.
There’s a general consensus among political pros that the economy is a much more potent issue when it’s lousy than when it’s strong, because voters may take prosperity for granted and choose to focus on other issues. For once Mr. Trump seems to have joined the Beltway consensus. Politico reports:
House Speaker Paul Ryan got President Donald Trump on the phone Sunday for one final plea on behalf of anxious Republicans: Please, please talk up the booming economy in the final hours before Election Day.
… “We can talk about the economy, but the fact is, we know how well we’re doing with the economy and we have to solve problems,” Trump said at an event in Florida on Friday, hitting back at criticism that he’s ignoring his party’s biggest asset.
He promptly latched onto his topic du jour: “Democrats are openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our sovereignty, overrun our borders and destroy our nation. In so many ways. We can’t let it happen.”
This column tends to agree with Mr. Ryan, while acknowledging that extreme Democratic positions against enforcement of various immigration laws give Republicans an opening. For example, Democrats keep talking about how far away the caravan of would-be migrants is, rather than simply affirming that several thousand people ought not to overrun the borders of the United States. Why is it so hard to agree that mass law-breaking should generally be frowned upon?
In any case, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Trump should agree that the economy is a winning issue for their party. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows Americans in a remarkably bullish mood. The nationwide survey was completed on Saturday and shows the highest levels of satisfaction with the state of the U.S. economy and with respondents’ own personal finances since the Clinton administration.
Americans are not just feeling wealthier. Pollsters have been asking voters for decades about the general direction of the country. This is typically posed as a question of whether the U.S. is headed on the right track or the wrong track.
Unfortunately in our recent history pessimism has prevailed and “wrong track” has been the overwhelming winner in most polls going back more than a decade. But since this time in 2016, the “wrong track” advantage has been cut by more than half, according to the average of such polls compiled by RealClearPolitics. Americans are significantly less pessimistic than they were in the days just before Donald Trump’s election.
This may be the most underreported story in politics, drowned out by constant media warnings that this unique President presents a grave threat to the republic.
It’s unclear how often the handful of nearly famous NeverTrump political pundits can announce they are abandoning the Republican party before television news producers stop treating such declarations as significant. For now MSNBC seems to be enforcing a strict requirement that each pundit can make such an announcement no more than 52 times per year.
But outside the world of professional opining, Americans are sending a very different message. Whether or not voters choose to hand Democrats control of the Congress, the Trump era has clearly exceeded their expectations.
Bottom Stories of the Day will return tomorrow.
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(Teresa Vozzo helps compile Best of the Web.)
Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “Borrowed Time,” now available from HarperBusiness.
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