There Is Only 1 Economic Recovery Candidate In This Race

Only one of the 2020 presidential candidates has experience leading America out of an economic recession and into an economic boom.
President Donald Trump (AP) and Former Vice President Joe Biden (Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ/Creative Commons)

President Donald Trump (AP) and Former Vice President Joe Biden (Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ/Creative Commons)

As the 2020 presidential race enters the final stretch, with less than 45 days to go until election day, the GOP has been clutching at straws to find a strategy that might claw back the deficit being experienced in the polls by Donald Trump and Republican candidates up and down the ballot. In order to attempt to do that, the GOP has returned to its traditional political strategy of focusing on the economy.

The approach isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s probably the most predictable Republican strategy out there, given how fundamental economic policy has been for GOP political campaigns at all levels for decades now. What is slightly surprising is that Republicans are choosing to draw attention to this just as America stares down the barrel of a potentially lengthy and damaging coronavirus-induced economic recession.

Perhaps it’s their lack of other options. After all, a president who has reportedly called fallen soldiers “losers” and “suckers”, nearly taken America to the brink of war with both Iran and North Korea, and lost a trade war with China, would surely be uncomfortable talking about foreign policy. Equally, a president who has attempted to strip healthcare from millions of Americans during a contagion, implemented an internationally-condemned family separation policy for migrants, and openly admitted to deliberately playing down a pandemic that has claimed the lives of 200,000 citizens, would definitely want to avoid talking about domestic policy.

That’s why, despite the economic damage that has been unleashed due to the White House’s inability to control the pandemic, the GOP appears to see the economy as their only hope for trying to shape a winning message. They aren’t playing dumb here and denying that tens of millions of Americans are unemployed, or that a whole host of businesses will be forced to permanently shutter. Instead, their messaging is focused on claiming that Republicans are in a better position than Joe Biden and the Democratic party to stop the economic bleeding and put America back on the right track.

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To be fair, the polling seems to be in Trump’s favor on this issue. Throughout his presidency, while criticism has come at him for numerous elements of his agenda, Trump has consistently managed to secure high approval numbers with voters for his handling of economic issues. For those looking at the harsh realities of the last four years, and the fact Trump inherited much of his economic successes from President Obama, this might be an eyebrow-raising fact. However, before entering politics, Trump created the façade of a successful businessman, significantly assisted by his role in the TV reality show ‘The Apprentice’. Added to that, Republicans have duped generations of voters into believing they can safely handle the economy. For these reasons, perhaps the approval numbers aren’t that surprising. After all, if something is repeated often enough and loud enough, some people will start to believe it.

The issue that Republicans face with this approach is that Trump lacks a track record for creating a path to economic recovery. There’s no denying that, before the coronavirus pandemic gripped America, unemployment had fallen to 3.5% and, in 2019, median US household income had hit a record high. However, none of that happened as a result of Trump’s actions and policies, rather he is the beneficiary of the strong economy that he inherited. Whereas the Obama/Biden administration started an arguably unprecedented successful economic expansion, the Trump team’s failings ended an impressive 113 straight months of job growth and a record-setting streak of 128 months of economic growth.

If there’s anyone in this election who should be stating loud and clear that, when this pandemic is contained, they can rebuild America’s economy, it is Joe Biden. He wasn’t just part of an administration that showed, after the 2008 crash, that they can overcome a global event that crushed the economy, Biden led that recovery from the Office of the Vice President. As an aside, it has to be noted with quite a lot of irony that, as Trump seeks to take credit for the sound economic policies of the Obama/Biden era, he also tries to blame the recent civil unrest taking place across America on the as-yet not appointed President Biden.

With Covid-19 having sent the unemployment level to 8.4%, a rate that no recent president has had to face during a re-election campaign, individuals in states across America are looking at the future with fear. This is a very different situation for the country than when Trump was campaigning in during 2016. Back in that election, many small business owners looked at Trump with apparent admiration, as they saw him as one of their own, a fellow entrepreneur. Even as recently as 2019, when many small businesses were booming, these people looked to the White House, whatever its failings on other issues, and supported the way in which they believed it treated them favorably.

12 months later, the situation is now substantially direr: a survey by Yelp during the summer found that 130,000+ businesses listed on their site that have had to shutter their doors due to the pandemic will remain permanently closed. Many of those business owners and their employees suffering as a result of this situation blame one man for the predicament they are in: Donald Trump.

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Small businesses in the United States are an integral part of the country’s economy, employing around half of all private-sector workers. Even before the coronavirus struck, plenty of these businesses were already struggling, due in part to the pressure from large corporations and international conglomerates with lower production costs that could undercut them. Perhaps it is for this reason that Trump’s claims to be taking on big businesses, such as Amazon, appealed to them.

However, as people have repeatedly discovered, Trump has governed as a flip-flopping president, with no real commitment to either the truth or to promises that he’s made. He promised to cut healthcare costs for small businesses: some companies are now paying double the price. He promised to implement tax reforms that would benefit smaller enterprises: his tax reforms benefit wealthy individuals and large corporations, leaving ordinary Americans behind. He promised to provide government aid for small companies during the coronavirus pandemic: in reality, he created a plan that was so filled with red tape and hoops that had to be jumped through that many small business owners were uncertain if they met the strict requirements for support and, ultimately, they were left abandoned without the financial aid they required.

Trump is alleged to have stiffed small contractors during his career before politics, refusing to pay for labor. It is understood that he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades, as fellow Americans tried to secure the pay they were owed for the work they had completed. Now, he’s stiffing workers across the country by abandoning them in their time of need, while pretending to be an economic savior who is their only hope.

Trump and the Republican Party are playing a risky game. The economic recovery is slowing, the coronavirus outbreak is continuing to spread at a worrying pace, and the GOP is failing to make progress in Congress towards the passage of a new, and desperately needed, Covid-19 relief package. While voters might have been convinced by Trump’s self-proclaimed credentials as a businessman back in 2016, they’ve now had years to see him in action.

Words alone won’t work so well this time around. Americans want action from politicians to address their concerns and, so far, that’s not even close to being forthcoming from the White House. The Republican Party might have previously been able to use the economy to their electoral advantage, but that relied on playing to the falsehood that they were uniquely qualified to handle economic issues. In the middle of a pandemic, when people are suffering from a crippled economy, that simply isn’t good enough. The reality is that, while Trump claimed to be the Businessman-in-Chief, he’s left the economy in tatters. On Election Day, voters will not forget the damage he’s done to their economic wellbeing.

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Opinion // Coronavirus / Donald Trump / Economy / Joe Biden / Recession