Aug 24, 2020 - Economy

Where Trump stands on economic promises

Illustration of Donald Trump facing a falling trend line

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump made lots of specific economic promises to voters during his 2016 campaign, but only fulfilled some of them before the pandemic plunged America into recession.

Why it matters: Trump's economic record and promises for future prosperity will be front and center during this week's Republican National Convention.


Trump vowed to "double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world" in his election night victory speech.

Grow the economy by 4% per year.

  • The U.S. economy grew by an average of 2.5% during Trump's first three years, topping out at 3% in 2018 and falling to 2.2% for 2019.
  • The coronavirus pandemic pushed the economy into a recession earlier this year.

Reduce the national debt, and eliminate it entirely within eight years.

  • The federal debt was $19.57 trillion at the end of 2016. It has grown every year since, now approaching $27 trillion, with no slowdown in sight.
  • Debt-to-GDP was higher in 2019 than in 2016, and now is at an all-time record.


Renegotiate trade deals. ✔️

  • Trump renegotiated NAFTA, a bilateral trade agreement with South Korea, and pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Decrease the trade deficit.

  • The national trade deficit has been larger in each of Trump's first three years in office than it was for 2016, per the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Trade deficits with both Canada and Mexico grew substantially, while the trade deficit with China decreased slightly.

Put tariffs on Chinese imports and stop theft of American trade secrets. ✔️ ❌

  • After nearly two years of tit-for-tat tariffs and stalled trade negotiations, the Trump administration signed a "Phase 1" trade deal earlier this year.
  • The deal fell short of what the administration wanted, and Trump recently said a Phase 2 deal is "unlikely."

Jobs and manufacturing:

"Bring back" U.S. manufacturing jobs. ✔️ ❌

  • The number of U.S. manufacturing jobs rose from 12.36 million in December 2016 to 12.87 million in December 2019. It's unclear how many of those jobs came "back" from overseas.
  • As of July 2020, there were fewer Americans employed in the manufacturing industry than before Trump took office.

Complete revitalization” of the manufacturing industry. ✔️ ❌

  • The manufacturing industry's leading gauge of its own health, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) manufacturing index, saw a sharp jump when Trump took office, and hit a 14-year high in 2018.
  • But that same index shows manufacturing contracted last year for the first time since January 2016, slipping to its lowest level since 2009.

"Put our miners and our steelworkers back to work." ✔️❌

  • The U.S. coal mining industry gained just 200 net jobs between December 2016 and December 2019, and then fell by thousands once the pandemic hit.
  • The number of U.S. steel and ironworker jobs increased by 10.3% between May 2016 and May 2019.

Companies like Apple will "start making their product, not in China, but in the U.S.A.," he said during a campaign speech. ❌

  • Apple continues to assemble the majority of its products in China.


"Massive tax relief to all working people" that won't add to debt or deficit. ✔️❌

  • Trump's tax cuts were the most sweeping changes to the system in 30 years. The Tax Policy Center reported that around 65% of people saw their tax bills shrink, while nearly every income group either saw lower taxes or heftier refunds. High earners fared best.
  • But the tax bill did not "pay for itself," or spur enough economic growth to bring in enough revenue to offset what's been lost from the tax cut.
  • The federal budget deficit increased in each of Trump's first three years, and in 2020 has been hitting monthly records.

Cut corporate taxes to 15%.

  • The corporate tax rate was cut from 35% to 21%.
  • Trump promised that the corporate cuts would boost business spending. The jolt lasted for a few quarters after the tax bill passed, but then fizzled out before collapsing when the pandemic hit.

"End the death tax."

  • This refers to the estate tax, which was altered instead of ended in the 2017 tax bill.
  • The threshold for paying this tax was doubled, but reverts back in 2026.

"Eliminate the carried interest deduction."

  • Carried interest, the term for profits earned by private equity and hedge fund managers, was not touched by the 2017 tax bill. In fact, fund managers now pay even less taxes on it because of cuts to capital gains tax rates.

Exclude child care expenses from taxation. ❌

  • The 2017 tax bill did increase and expand the child tax credit, but not nearly to the level of covering typical child care costs.

"Trillions in new dollars and wealth" pouring into the country.

  • Annual investment by foreign entities in U.S. businesses were lower in each of Trump's first three years than in 2015 or 2016, last year hitting its lowest mark in over a decade.


Rescind "job-killing" regulations. ✔️❌

  • The Trump administration completed 243 deregulatory actions during its first two years — and the majority of the actions reviewed in that time period were deemed economically insignificant by the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
  • Many attempted deregulatory efforts ended up in court — and the Trump administration so far has lost nearly 90% of those cases, a worse track record than prior administrations.
  • Trump issued 4,300 regulations during his first two years in office. Compare that to the 6,800 and 7,000 Barack Obama and George W. Bush issued respectively within the same timeframe.

Implement a "penny plan."

  • Trump said in a September 2016 speech that he'd cut federal spending by 1% per year for 10 years, with exceptions made for defense and entitlement spending, in order to save nearly $1 trillion. This did not happen, with spending increases even before the massive CARES Act.

The bottom line: Trump can't blame the pandemic for the lack of follow-through on certain campaign promises. In other cases, the pandemic reversed some of Trump's economic bragging rights.

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