Economy soars, Trump smiles, Dems worry

July 29, 2018

It’s hard to get excited over economic news, but it’s also hard to ignore the numbers released on Friday. The nation’s Gross Domestic Product grew by 4.1 percent in the second quarter of this year, almost double the 2.2 percent rate for the first quarter.

In plain English, that means the U.S. economy is not just doing well but really booming. This has been apparent for a while, staring about the time that Donald Trump became president. And that’s where it gets interesting politically.

Democrats will scoff that the economy was starting to improve under President Obama, which it was. They will also say that recent growth has been boosted by the staggering burst of deficit-spending approved by Trump and Republicans — who previously claimed to be fiscal conservatives.

For now, however, all of that is background chatter. What registers with most voters is that the unemployment rate is not just low but about as low as economists say it can realistically get (about 4 percent). If those voters have stocks or 401k’s, they see their value rocketing up. Paychecks might not be increasing as much from year to year as some folks would like, but for a change Main Street is doing as well as Wall Street. Inflation is low too, and that’s a real plus for people on fixed incomes or those who just don’t earn a lot.

When things like that happen, the party in power gets the credit, deserved or not. The solid economy is going to help Republicans in the mid-term elections. It might even help them maintain control of the U.S. House when a lot of analysts think Democrats could gain the 24 seats they need nationwide to take it over.

The wild card in all this is the never-ending soap opera of Trump scandals, allegations and embarrassments, from mistress payoffs to Putin coddling to obstruction of justice. A record like that would sink any other president, but of course Trump is not like any other president. Not only has he been dealing with that since Inauguration Day, he was dealing with it in the campaign.

Yet midterm elections have also historically favored the party out of power. Voters may give a party a mandate in one election, but it tends not to last. That’s the great conflict of this November’s elections: Will the soaring economy help Republicans deflect the supposed “Blue wave” that’s about to crest over America? Or will voters decide they’d like more checks and balances in Washington? Or will the elections hinge on something moving under the radar, like lousy health care options?

Trump might also undercut the economic momentum with the growing trade war he has unleashed. That issue flares and recedes from week to week, so it’s hard to make a long-term protection. Republicans in Congress would also put heavy pressure on him if our economy was deprived of imports we want and exports we need. But Trump has ignored senior Republicans in Congress when they complain about other things, and he may blow them off on this too.

For now, at least, Trump and the GOP are coasting along as the economy surges forward. Democrats are grumbling but mostly powerless to do anything. Only the next national election can change the status quo if it’s as surprising as the last one.

Thomas Taschinger is the editorial page editor of The Beaumont Enterprise. Follow him on Twitter at @PoliticalTom

Update hourly