There’s a notable omission from this: much discussion of the economy. By all common standards, this should be Trump’s strongest asset, as my colleague Ron Brownstein writes. With the stock market rising and unemployment at record lows, it’s a rare bright spot for Trump. Moreover, while experts will tut-tut that presidential decisions usually have only a marginal effect on the economy, positive growth tends to reelect presidents.
Yet Trump has pushed the good news to the background. It’s not that he never talks about it. He tweeted about his economic record on Wednesday, but in the context of a vote about impeachment in the House. The question is one of emphasis and sustained attention. Trump talked about the economy at the start of his June 18 rally in Florida, for example.
“Our country is now thriving, prospering, and booming,” he said. “And frankly, it’s soaring to incredible new heights. Our economy is the envy of the world, perhaps the greatest economy we’ve had in the history of our country. And as long as you keep this team in place, we have a tremendous way to go. Our future has never, ever looked brighter or sharper.”
But he didn’t return to the subject much more in the speech, and at the Wednesday rally in Greenville, North Carolina, where the crowd chanted “Send her back!” about Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, Trump once again briefly ran through his talking points about the economy and then moved on to the race-baiting.
When Trump does talk about the economy, it’s often to bash the Federal Reserve for its handling of interest rates. Though the president tries to frame this with nuance—imagine how much better things would be if only they listened to me!—his complaints undercut his message of economic strength.
There’s a curious mirroring going on between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. One would expect Trump to want to speak about the economy, but the president, with his unmatched ability to control the news cycle, keeps changing the issue to racial division. By contrast, one would expect Pelosi to want to talk about anything but the economy, but she and other Democratic leaders have expressed frustration with the squad changing the subject away bread-and-butter issues, which Pelosi sees as winners, despite the strong economy. (Democrats have focused on health care and on the minimum wage, passing a bill on Thursday raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, though the bill is likely dead on arrival in the Senate.)
All of Trump’s campaign themes are provisional. Trump is—in campaign tactics, if not in his governing style—a pragmatist: He likes to try ideas and motifs out on crowds, see if they work well, and then either embrace or discard them. On Thursday, he unconvincingly tried to disavow the “Send her back” chant, but as Aaron Blake noted, Trump also disavowed “Lock her up” chants in 2016, only to later adopt them as a motto. And as I recently reported with several colleagues, Trump has long demonstrated racist attitudes, but his breakthrough in politics coincided with his newfound recognition of how effectively he could wield race as a political tool.