Feb 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's opportunity to use Bernie as an economic scapegoat

illustration of trump standing behind a bernie sanders life size cutout

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Zach Gibson/Stringer, The Washington Post/Getty Contributor

Bernie Sanders is poised to become an economic scapegoat for both the White House and Corporate America, assuming that Sanders comes through Super Tuesday unscathed.

The big picture: If the U.S. economy remains strong, President Trump and CEOs will claim credit (as they've been doing for three years). If it turns sour, they'll blame Bernie (even though it's a largely baseless charge).

  • We got a sneak preview yesterday, when a Fox Business Network anchor pinned the Dow drop on Nevada caucus results, rather than on rising coronavirus infections outside of China.

Presidents receive too much credit and criticism for the economy, a popular maxim that we've seen manifested in past reelection results.

The state of play: The core validity of American capitalism wasn't at issue in those prior tilts. Bernie Sanders opens that door by virtue of his self-described democratic socialism, giving Trump a rhetorical shield unavailable to past incumbents. And the same goes for CEOs and boards, who normally bear the brunt of poor performance.

  • This isn't to say that such arguments would necessarily work, particularly given that GDP growth and corporate earnings both softened before Sanders surged.
  • Nor that they should work, as only one president at a time sets policy.
  • It's just that they may work, particularly when the only alternative for Trump and CEOs would be accepting blame.

The bottom line: Sanders, just by virtue of his ascendant existence, gives today's political and business leaders a "heads I win, tails you lose" response to whatever the economy throws at us heading into November.

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