On Friday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted about the the spate of good economic news:
The tweet, however, is an exception to a general principle: While Trump is not a man averse to boasting, he hasn’t made the robust job numbers the central theme of his midterm campaigning. Instead, the president’s closing message has been, as Matt Ford noted, fascism: a mix of fear-mongering about immigrants and asylum seekers and promises of authoritarian solutions (ranging from ending birthright citizenship with an executive order to ordering the army to shoot civilians at the border).
Why hasn’t Trump run on the strong economy? After all, he can credibly argue that the tax cuts he and the Republican Congress pushed through had a stimulus effect.
Part of the problem is that those tax cuts were highly regressive in nature, with most of the benefits going to the wealthiest Americans. This has made them unpopular. Indeed, polling shows that over time, voters like them less and less. A poll over the summer showed 46 percent of Americans disapproved of them, as against 39 percent who approved.
As Politico pointed out in September, “Polls show voters rate the economy highly, but approval ratings for both Trump and the GOP remain mired in deeply negative territory. Surveys also show sharp skepticism over Trump’s trade battles with Canada, Mexico, China and Europe. That means a booming economy could be turning into a political bust for the party.”
Trump’s instinct to focus on red-meat cultural politics is sound. As Matt Yglesias noted on Twitter, under both Obama and Trump, presidential popularity has become uncoupled from economic news:
This suggests that in the new political environment, the electorate is willing to overlook economic news, good or bad, based on their prior feelings about a president. And those prior feelings are produced by exactly the sort of strong culture-war politics that Trump has mastered.