Trump and his allies adjust their messaging on the economy as it steadily improves
It’s a clear upward turn for Biden following a grueling period of price spikes that soured voters’ mood and damaged the president’s approval ratings. Biden has consistently received low marks on his handling of the economy, with polls showing cost of living issues among Americans top concerns.
But now, with the risk of a recession seeming to recede, even Trump’s close allies acknowledge it’s getting tough to tell voters a bleak story about the economy. And though far from certain, it’s now possible that the nation’s economic health could become an electoral asset for Biden in an unexpected way.
“I think that is the question of the day,” said Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and an economist with FreedomWorks who is close to the Trump campaign. “You can’t blame the president when policies go wrong, and then say he’s not responsible if things are going right.”
Moore, who said he met with Trump in December and discussed the economic outlook, added: “If this continues, where you see strong job growth and also if you see wages outpacing inflation, as has been for the last nine months or so, that certainly makes the argument less persuasive.”
Trump has responded by throwing out a series of counterarguments downplaying Biden’s role in the economic upswing, including suggesting that the stock markets’ gains are actually his doing.
On Monday, he claimed on Truth Social that voters were already enjoying a “TRUMP STOCK MARKET” because the economy was anticipating his eventual victory. For now, Trump said, “EVERYTHING ELSE IS TERRIBLE (WATCH THE MIDDLE EAST!)”
But economists quickly dismissed the claim, and the theory that Trump should get credit for an economy overseen by Biden has proved too far of a stretch for many Republicans as well.
“I wouldn’t make that my principal argument,” said Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based GOP strategist. “‘The economy is good because of some future occurrence’ is not typically the best argument.”
Former Trump White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who initially floated the idea that Trump deserved credit for the current stock gains, has also since walked back the idea. It was a remarkable concession given Kudlow’s record as one of the most reliably pro-Trump economic commentators.
“I’m an honest broker,” he said on Fox News following better-than-expected GDP numbers. “If I were [Biden], I would be bragging about it, too.”
“Voters will not forget or forgive all the misery and despair Crooked Joe Biden has cased in just four years,” said Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung. “Americans know that they were better off with President Trump in the White House. After almost four years of Biden’s disastrous presidency, we need a return to America First policies that successfully kept our country safe and supercharged the economy for all Americans.”
Biden officials say they recognize that the president faces an uphill battle selling his own agenda, even with the recent economic tailwinds. Most Americans remain skeptical about the economy’s overall trajectory, or
say they struggle to point to specific policies that have affected them. Grocery prices, for example, have outpaced inflation and are up 25 percent from where they were four years ago.
A recent poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that
65 percent of Americans overall view the economy as “poor.”
Biden in his own speeches has gone to lengths to acknowledge that there’s more the administration needs to do. But he’s also ramped up efforts to directly compare his accomplishments to Trump’s first-term record, portraying him as concerned solely with aiding the wealthy and corporations.
“Trump won’t be honest about the economy for the same reason he’s been rooting for the market to crash before the next election,” Democratic National Committee rapid response director Andrew Floyd said in a Friday statement. “He only cares about himself, and he’ll leave working families out to dry if he thinks it’ll help him and his ultra-rich friends.”
Amid all the promising economic news, Trump allies say his best argument against Biden may now be the simplest one: That prices are still higher than they were under his administration. They say it hits at the feeling many Americans have about their pocketbooks, even if economic indicators are improving.
“Biden’s inflation disaster has crushed your household finances. What he’s done to your finances are incredible. He’s crushed your finances and his open borders policy. They’ve demolished your wages,” Trump said at a recent rally in Nevada.
And there are specific cost-of-living issues that Trump is especially eager to exploit. An
ad released by the Trump campaign in early January attacked Biden for high gas prices and mortgage rates.
“That’s the one thing that correlates the most with how people are feeling is, how am I doing with respect to my paycheck?” Moore said. “Under Biden, through his first three years, the average median family income is down by about $2,000. And that’s something I’ve told him to keep hitting on.”
Moore added that he’s urged Trump to rely on such direct comparisons, showing him dozens of charts highlighting elements of the economy that he said had performed better under Trump than Biden.
Across the Republican Party, there’s still some hope that voters’ economic frustrations can propel Trump to a victory in November. Americans’ growing optimism about their own financial situation hasn’t yet translated into a more favorable view of Biden, and many remain scarred by the memory of 9 percent inflation.
It just may take more effort to deliver that argument than Trump and his allies anticipated.
“The inflation rate may have come down, but prices have not receded to where they were in 2019,” said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster. “And that’s what’s causing people so much angst.”
Still, advisers in both camps recognize that if the gap is narrowing between the two candidates, it’s primarily because the economy is booming — and undercutting Trump’s core electoral argument in the process.
David Siders contributed to this report.