When in doubt … trot James Carville out. Donald Trump hopes that “It’s the economy, stupid” still applies in 2018. Consumer confidence hit a new high for the 21st century*, according to a key measure from the Conference Board, and Trump made sure everyone saw it:
Just out: Consumer Confidence hits highest level since 2000.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2018
The timing couldn’t be better, even if it doesn’t have the impact Trump hopes:
U.S. consumer confidence rose in October to an 18-year high amid optimism about jobs and the economy, according to figures Tuesday from the New York-based Conference Board.
The results, coming amid a rout in U.S. stocks, bode well for continued gains in consumer spending, which accelerated in the third quarter to the best pace since 2014. A solid job market is helping to support household confidence as well as Americans’ purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy. The figures add to signs of contentment with the economy ahead of next week’s U.S. midterm elections that will decide control of both houses of Congress.
Trump wasn’t kidding, and confidence wasn’t limited to consumers, either. The perception of job markets has also hit a new high this century, as Americans are far more optimistic about their prospects:
The shares saying current business conditions are good and jobs are plentiful increased from the prior month. The outlooks improved for the economy and incomes, while a slightly smaller share said more jobs would be available in the next six months.
The labor differential, which measures the gap between respondents saying jobs are plentiful and those who say they’re hard to get, jumped to 32.7 percentage points, the widest since January 2001.
It’s a great story to tell, if Trump lets the dust settle long enough to get it across. The ad this week from the Trump 2020 campaign did just that, but a day later Trump changed the narrative to birthright citizenship for … reasons. Did the campaign get data on ebbing enthusiasm and feel the need to zap the base, or was Trump just freestyling, as is often his wont?
It’s not the last opportunity for Trump to make the economy his closing argument. The October jobs report comes out on Friday, and this result should raise expectations for a decent expansion in job creation. September’s results fell more into the maintenance level, and Hurricane Michael might play hob with October’s, but anything above the 150,000 level will give Trump some momentum on the economic argument, at least to play offense:
President Donald Trump has warned that if Democrats regain political power in the midterm elections, the U.S. economy would essentially implode.
Democrats, he insists, would push tax hikes and environmental restrictions that stifle growth. Undocumented immigrants would steal jobs and unleash a crime wave that would halt commerce. Health insurance would devolve into a socialist program offering shoddy care at unsustainable cost.
“At stake in this election,” Trump declared at a rally in Houston, “is whether we continue the extraordinary prosperity that we’ve all achieved or whether we let the radical Democrat mob take a giant wrecking ball and destroy our country and our economy.”
Almost no private economist agrees with Trump’s portrait of a financial apocalypse.
Doesn’t matter. It’s perfectly reasonable to paint the contrast between parties, even if the incumbent president can block the opposition’s agenda regardless of the outcome. Just ask Barack Obama, who constantly warned that Republicans would create another economic collapse if they won midterm elections.
The big question is whether James Carville’s prophecy still holds — or whether we’re too addicted to stupid distractions to make elections about the economy any more. Here’s hoping Carville’s still right.
*-Remember that the 21st century started in 2001, please.