Economic Recovery Key to Trump Reelection in November, Strategists Say

May 28, 2020 Updated: May 28, 2020

WASHINGTON—The state of the economy is a paramount issue in driving electoral outcomes, and, as the nation shifts to recovery from relief, President Donald Trump’s reelection odds depend very much on a successful relaunch of the U.S. economy, according to political strategists.

Trump forecasts a “tremendous comeback” as states gradually ease their lockdown measures and open their economies. He bets that his reopening guidelines to the states will help create a speedy recovery without causing a new wave of virus infections.

Early this month, his campaign launched a new ad, titled “American Comeback,” positioning the president’s 2020 reelection bid around an economic revival.

Until March, it looked like Trump was on his way to an easy victory in November. Then the economy went from the best to the worst in just a few weeks and his reelection chances started to look shakier.

“It will depend on how the public sees things, not only with the progress against the disease, but also with reopening the economy,” David Pietrusza, political historian and author, told The Epoch Times.

Pietrusza, also an expert on presidential electoral history, said this year could be a replay of the 1930s.

President Herbert Hoover, whom many blamed for the Great Depression, lost the election of 1932 to Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide. While the economy remained sluggish and 8 million Americans still were without jobs, Roosevelt won reelection by a historic margin in 1936.

According to Pietrusza, the voters may treat Trump like either Hoover in 1932 or FDR in 1936, depending on whether they see the glass half-empty or half-full.

Voters will feel pessimistic if they measure the economic situation in November against the good times of pre-pandemic, but they may feel positive if they compare it against the second quarter of this year and see the economic recovery is on solid ground, he said.

Public approval of Trump’s handling of the pandemic has slumped since late March. According to a Pew survey in April, 65 percent of Americans, including 33 percent of Republicans, believe that the president was too slow in addressing the COVID-19 threat.

Trump currently trails his presumptive opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, by more than five points in national polls.

Trump departs the White House
President Donald Trump departs the White House in Washington on May 27, 2020. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said in a report on May 8 that Biden led in 5 of the 6 key battlegrounds—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona.

“As the 2016 election proves, all this can change,” he wrote. “Trump is betting his presidency on the consequences of reopening America’s economy and society. If it goes well—if people can return to work and socialize in public places without triggering an upsurge in COVID-19 infections—his wavering supporters may well return to the fold.”

Despite the pandemic, Trump still scores better on the economy. A recent CNN poll showed that Trump held a 12-point advantage over Biden, when voters were asked about who they trusted most in leading the economy.

“The biggest problem Trump has had for the past two months [is that] he’s been running against the coronavirus and not his opponent,” Ford O’Connell, a political analyst and Republican strategist, told The Epoch Times.

Trump is winning the lockdown war as Americans become less fearful about going back to normal, he said.

“One of the things that the Democrats have been relying on is this idea of fear. And the less fearful Americans are about going outside of their house and going to work, the better off Donald Trump’s reelection chances are.”

A Referendum on Trump

The virus has sickened more than 1.7 million people in the United States and killed more than 100,000 as of May 27. And in just nine weeks, nearly 41 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits.

“This election will be a referendum on Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” Bill Press, political commentator and former chairman of the California Democratic Party, told The Epoch Times.

“I do think, up until March, that Donald Trump was favored because of the economy,” he said. “And that was his long suit.”

However, Trump now needs “a miraculous recovery overnight” to win the election, he said.

“I think that would be a great help to Donald Trump. But that is not going to happen. We’re in too deep of a hole to come out of it overnight.”

Some Democrats, however, fear that the economic debate may look very different come November.

Jason Furman, a chief economist in the Obama administration and now a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, believes that the current crisis will be followed by a quick and sharp rebound and this will coincide with the four months before November.

“We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” he told a bipartisan group of top officials, according to Politico.

His predictions, which are in line with the explosive numbers predicted by Trump’s economic advisers, are based on the premise that the current crisis is different than prior recessions and that the economy was in a good place before the pandemic.

According to Politico, his statements have caused panic among Democrats as Trump could benefit from a strong rebound prior to the election.

Challenges Facing Democrats 

A bad economy has been historically a factor that kills a president’s chances of winning.

“Since FDR, only two incumbent presidents have lost reelection—Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush—and the reason was very simple; there was a major economic blip or recession,” O’Connell said.

However, there are other factors that go beyond economics. Trump’s hawkish stance on China and the “Obamagate” scandal are other wild cards that could improve Trump’s reelection odds.

Democrats believe Trump’s criticism of China for the pandemic is an attempt to distract attention from domestic problems.

However, public opinion in the United States has shifted significantly against the Chinese regime in recent months due to the pandemic and this has created a “big vulnerability” for Biden, according to Libby Cantrill, head of public policy at the investment management firm PIMCO.

As vice president and in almost four decades as a U.S. senator, Biden had been friendly toward free trade and China, she said in April during a panel discussion.

China is definitely a weak point for the Biden campaign, according to O’Connell.

“The question is, how much do American voters make the connection that China is primarily responsible for the pandemic. If they do, that’s a feather in President Trump’s cap,” he said.

He noted that Americans, especially Democrats, “have not been fully informed by the news media about the dangers that China poses to the United States.”

The same is true for the “Obamagate” scandal, O’Connell said, adding that the mainstream media ignored the subject for the past three years.

The scandal is “a real boost” for Trump, he said.

“It provides extra motivation for the Republican voters to turn out because there’s fear among the Republican Party, if he doesn’t win reelection, we’ll never get to the bottom of this.”

Democrats, however, disagree with it, calling it another distraction.

“I don’t think it’s helping Trump at all. I don’t even think his base buys it,” Press said. “It’s total nonsense.”

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