A White House official grimaced slightly Wednesday as a cable news chyron showed stocks plummeting, potentially undercutting President Donald Trump’s Thursday plans to say his stewardship of a strong economy should help earn him a second term.
Trump will make another campaign-trail pitch to voters Thursday evening in what his aides see as a likely 2020 battleground state that could be a photo finish next November: New Hampshire.
His rally in Manchester will mark yet another early reelection tour stop in an expected or possible battleground state. Since last fall’s midterms, he has headlined campaign events in Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida (twice), Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio.
Trump on Thursday morning told a New Hampshire radio station he has no plans to dial back his economic message.
“We’ll be talking about the economy. The economy is phenomenal right now. With a normalized interest rate, we’re doing phenomenal,” he said, taking another shot at the Federal Reserve over a rate hike early in his term. “We had couple of bad days, but we’re going to have good days because we had to take on China.”
Trump campaign aides signaled he will tie the state’s employment level to his policies.
“The New Hampshire economy is roaring in the Trump economy with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire nation at 2.5 percent — the lowest it’s been since 1988,” said Daniel Bucheli, a deputy Trump-Pence campaign press secretary. “President Trump is turning the tide on the opioid epidemic and will keep fighting to end this scourge affecting New Hampshire families and communities.”
The White House official chatted with a reporter Wednesday while staring intently at a television screen mounted on an office wall with a concerned look.
“I can’t say anyone is running around this building screaming alarm bells,” the official said. “But I’m not going to say we’re just ignoring it. We’re very much aware of the market.”
U.S. and global stocks were down again Wednesday — with the Dow tumbling 800 points by the closing bell — amid concerns about U.S.-China trade tensions that are fueling talk of a recession here and around the globe. Recent market jitters and tumbles, complete with cable news broadcasting images of nervous traders, threaten to blunt what political observers of all stripes agree is Trump’s best argument for a second term: a booming economy. (The Dow opened slightly up on Thursday.)
The controversial Trump’s approval rating rarely moves beyond a percentage range from the very high 30s to the low 40s. He has kept that relatively stable despite recent controversies surrounding racist tweets and statements about four minority congresswomen, House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings and the city of Baltimore — which is majority black.
The president’s base support remains mostly unchanged when mass shooters echo his rhetoric about Latin American migrants.
But there’s one word — among the most powerful in American politics — that Republicans and Democrats say could tank his reelection odds: recession. And Bank of America last week warned its clients it sees a 1-in-3 chance of a second recession in 11 years.
When the R-word comes up, the president has taken to saying that the health of the American economy is strong — unlike that of many other countries. One of his top economic and trade advisers, Peter Navarro, last week told Fox Business “this economy is solid as a rock” when asked if a recession is on the horizon.
The United States is now, by far, the Biggest, Strongest and Most Powerful Economy in the World, it is not even close! As others falter, we will only get stronger. Consumers are in the best shape ever, plenty of cash. Business Optimism is at an All Time High!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
Navarro touted job creation and other data, but notably, like White House officials, he cast blame about the economy not being stronger on the U.S. central bank and congressional Democrats — a potential preview of Team Trump’s recession message.
“And the two things … that have to happen right now don’t have anything to do with China,” he said. “They have to do with the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates and the Congress passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada [trade] agreement.”
Increasingly, the slate of 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls have started hitting Trump over what they see as economic trouble ahead.
“What’s troubling is this time around we got a president who seems determined to destabilize it even further,” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told CNN on Wednesday. “With an inconsistent trade policy, tweets seeming to compromise the independence of the Fed, and a general unwillingness to prepare the country for how we’re going to get through the economic ups and downs that are in the years ahead … I’m very concerned about where the economy is right now because it feels like we can no longer just take for granted that there will continue to be growth.”
Another candidate, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is pinning blame for economic warning signs squarely on the president.
“The truth [is] bad trade deals have crippled our economy,” she told the same network Wednesday. “I will stand up to China, but in a responsible way. You can use tariffs responsibly — but not with a trade war like Trump has created, which is hurting our producers.”
One Republican strategist said there are worries among some in the party that Trump is losing his touch on the economy.
“The biggest concern right now is a recession in the next 18 months. Since FDR, every incumbent president who has avoided a recession has been reelected,” the strategist said, adding that some in the party see Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods as a major driver of a possible election-year economic slowdown.
Still, the feeling among White House aides and GOP sources is that most of Trump’s core supporters and other Republican voters will stand behind him next November.
The recent market tumble “does not change the calculus that the battle with China is a fight worth having — especially when most 2020 Democrats have no clue about the issue,” the strategist said.
Amid that economic worry, Trump is making his first 2020 campaign stop in a state he did not win three years ago. Hillary Clinton narrowly beat him by less than half a point.
“There seems to be a tendency among some to assume that every state Hillary Clinton won is somehow guaranteed for the 2020 nominee,” the Crystal Ball’s Kyle Kondik said. “But that sort of thinking overlooks the fact that New Hampshire only voted for Clinton by less than half a percentage point, and other Clinton-won states — Maine, Minnesota and Nevada — only backed her by 3 points or less. Presumably, if Trump wins again, he may carry one or more of these states.”
But, like elsewhere, political analysts see as an uphill path for Trump to the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to secure a second term.
“That said, Trump’s approval rating typically is weak in New Hampshire,” Kondik said.
Also mirroring the state of play in other battlegrounds, an Emerson Polling survey earlier this year found the president trailing several of the leading Democratic candidates in New Hampshire, trailing in head-to-head contests with former Vice President Joe Biden (10 points), Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (10 points) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (4 points).
Trump on Tuesday turned an energy policy event in Pennsylvania, another swing state, into a campaign rally in miniature. Speaking at a Shell-owned petrochemicals plant — that he falsely took credit despite approvals coming from the Obama administration — he appeared increasingly focused on Biden and Warren.
“I don’t know who’s going to win, but we’ll have to hit Pocahontas very hard again if she does win. But she’s staging a little bit of a comeback,” the president said, using his mocking name for Warren. “What a group: Pocahontas and Sleepy Joe. I don’t think they give a damn about western Pennsylvania. Do you?”
“No,” yelled the crowd in unison. Trump beamed behind his lectern.