Donald Trump channeled his inner James Carville last night in New Hampshire, hammering on the economy as his best argument for re-election. “Love me or hate me,” Trump told the crowd that was clearly in the first camp, “you’ve got to vote for me” to keep the economy growing. Nearly thirty years after Carville’s famous admonition to Bill Clinton’s campaign team in Little Rock, it’s still the economy, stupid:
President Trump doubled down on his economic argument for re-election on Thursday night amid increasing concerns about a recession, declaring that even Americans who hate him “have no choice” but to vote for him because otherwise the stock market will collapse. …
“You have the best unemployment, you have the most successful state in the history of your state and the history of our country,” he told a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H. “And then you’re going to vote for somebody else? Oh great. ‘Let’s vote for Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren. We have the best numbers we’ve ever had — let’s vote for somebody else.’”
Even as he derided Ms. Warren, a senator from next-door Massachusetts and a Democratic presidential candidate, with a racial slur, Mr. Trump acknowledged the deep antipathy many voters have for him but made the argument that they should put aside their distaste for their own economic well-being.
“You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k), everything is going to be down the tubes,” he told the crowd. “Whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me.”
This was a Trump rally, of course, so Trump talked about many things, as the video from the Guardian makes clear. The New York Times report later sniffs that Trump got repetitive, circling back around to topics and points he’d made earlier. That’s also a feature of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness style at his rallies. He rarely sticks to a script in any instance, except on formal occasions and high-stakes statements such as the one after the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. These are meant to be fun — for the attendees, of course, but also for Trump, who revels in the adulation and the loosey-goosey feel of them
He took the time, for instance, to circle back around on Elizabeth Warren more than once in the state she needs to win. Trump offered some comic regret over having hit her too soon with the “Pocahontas” attack, but promised he’d bring it back if she wins the nomination:
Belittling opponents is also a repeating feature in Trump’s rallies, and it makes for crowd-pleasing attack lines. However, Trump is right to focus on the economy as the driving issue of the election. It’s doubly important in this cycle because it is practically the only non-ideological reason to keep supporting him, as Trump alludes in the “love me or hate me” line. As I wrote earlier at The Week, that reality will eventually force Trump to make some hard decisions — or reap the consequences:
Trump has no war record nor splashy victory in a conventional war — as Bush had with Iraq in early 1992 when his approval rate spiked to near-universal acclaim — to cushion the blow of a recession. Trump ran on economic renewal and the potential for spectacular growth through deregulation, tax reform, and a pugilistic trade policy. With his other major campaign platform — immigration and border security — tied up in court actions and a stalemate with Congress, Trump needs the economy to keep performing at a high pitch. …
Perhaps Trump also senses that any economic upheaval will produce the toughest opponent possible in his re-election bid. On Tuesday, he ordered a delay on part of the next round of tariffs on Chinese imports, which are due to begin on September 1. The tariffs would have added 10 percent to the cost of $300 billion in annual imports, but Trump’s new order postpones the penalties for around half of those imports — specifically on consumer items.
“We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers,” Trump said on his way to vacation in New Jersey. The new tariffs could have put a recession-starting decline into retailers’ Christmas stockings and ruined their prospects for jobs growth in 2020. This move suggests Trump understands the dangers of the trade war dragging on for much longer.
Trump needs to put that stark choice to voters in 2020: Choose your pocketbooks or yur feelz. Carville knew that pocketbooks win every time, but for incumbents, the pocketbooks have to be looking very strong to make that choice. If there’s any rollback in economic growth, there’s no choice to be made for Trump.
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