Trump's best selling point for reelection in 2020 is looking stronger than ever

The Asahi Shimbun/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump.
  • President Donald Trump has made the strength of the economy a key part of his 2020 reelection strategy.
  • Trump got more ammunition for that argument with the higher-than-expected first-quarter gross-domestic-product numbers on Friday.
  • GDP growth came in at 3.2% for the first quarter, much higher than the 2.3% expected by economists.
  • Voters are also generally favourable toward Trump’s handling of the economy.
  • So the strong numbers help build Trump’s best argument for 2020.
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Friday’s strong GDP report wasn’t just good news for the US economy – it’s also a good sign for President Donald Trump as he seeks reelection in 2020.

The Commerce Department said first-quarter GDP growth hit 3.2%, well above the 2.3% print that economists expected.

While there are a handful of reasons the strong GDP number may be temporary, the growth came after early concerns that the first quarter’s growth was going to be disastrous.

At one point in early March, the Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now tracker estimated that first-quarter GDP growth was on track to finish below 0.5%. Instead, we got the strongest first-quarter print since 2015.

Read more:
GDP growth smashed expectations at the beginning of 2019. But economists say the upswing probably won’t last.

Trump has made the strong economy one of the central themes of his pitch to voters, and Friday’s GDP number provided the president another occasion to crow about the US’s resiliency.

“GDP is an incredible number,” Trump told reporters. “But remember this: Not only that, we have a great growth – which is growth. We have great growth and also very, very low inflation. Our economy is doing great. Number one in the world. We’re number-one economy right now in the world, and it’s not even close.”

And the argument seems to be resonating with voters. While Trump’s approval rating is still weak, polls indicate that a majority of Americans approve of his handling of the economy, and many voters give Trump’s policies a hefty amount of credit for the country’s economic strength.

While the tie between economic performance and elections has frayed in the recent past, the health of the US economy has generally been a good predictor for elections. And the ability to point to raising wages and strong GDP numbers is a strong case for Trump to bring to voters. In fact, some predictive models give Trump a runaway chance at reelection, mainly based on the economy’s upside.

Democrats are also keenly aware of the boost that Trump could get from the economy. Many in the party, including former President Barack Obama, have argued that Trump is simply benefitting from reforms made during the Obama’s time following the financial crisis.

But making that case may not be as compelling as Trump’s message. Celinda Lake, a leading Democratic strategist, told Politico that the president’s economic message was much stronger than Democrats’ at this early juncture in the 2020 cycle.

“We will tend to talk about things like paid leave and equal pay – and those things are all very popular policies,” Lake said. “But they don’t add up to an economic message that is robust enough to win the presidency and beat Donald Trump, who talks about a very robust economic policy.”

This isn’t to say the economy couldn’t slow down. In fact many economists expect the boost from the GOP-led, Trump-supported tax cuts to fade in the latter part of the year, and the possibility of an economically damaging trade war still lingers.

But so far US GDP has outpaced expectations and with a strong labour market, rising wages, and strong consumer confidence, there’s a good chance that Trump will have the benefit of a strong economy by the time the 2020 election rolls around.

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