May 12, 2019

America's booming economy is Trump’s 2020 tailwind

Photo: Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Every incumbent president since FDR who has avoided a recession in the lead-up to an election year was re-elected.

Why it matters: More Americans are saying they approve of President Trump's handling of the economy, even though they disapprove overall. 51% of people disapprove of Trump's job performance in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out last week, but 51% approve of him on the economy. If he loses, it would be a big break with recent history.

The 2020 election is about 18 months away, and key metrics show the economy is surprising to the upside.


  • The economy grew 2.3% during Trump's first full year in office, and it hit 2.9% in 2018 — slightly less than the 3% the White House promised, but still the fastest annual pace since 2015.
  • Unemployment is at a 50-year low, and the stretch of job growth that began under Obama has continued for a record 103 months.
  • By the Federal Reserve's own guidance, low interest rates will stay low for a while longer. (In fact, inflation is so tepid, traders are betting interest rates will be even lower in coming months.)

Yes, but: While recession fears have subsided, there's no guarantee that Trump's strong economy will keep pace through 2020. Among the big unknowns, for instance, are the potential economic effects of heightened U.S.-China trade tensions.

  • Flashback: What had been an otherwise impressive stretch for economic growth during the first half of Jimmy Carter's presidency began to unravel in 1980 — the same year Carter unsuccessfully sought a second term.

The other side: Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls are saying the booming economy isn't touching all corners of the country. Many are pointing to income inequality, while others are tapping into the ways in which the capitalist system has failed.

  • For instance, Bernie Sanders told ABC last week "the economy is doing well ... but that does not mean that for millions of working people they are not struggling economically today."
  • John Hickenlooper told Axios at the Milken Conference that "just because you have record low unemployment ... does not mean the country is better off."

The bottom line: "Many voters are willing to forgive the noise (political incorrectness, tweets, Mueller) as long as the signal (economy) stays strong,” e-mails lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, whose quarterly slide deck tipped us to this trend.

Go deeper

Snapchat will no longer promote Trump's account in Discover

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Snapchat will no longer promote President Trump's account on its "Discover" page of curated content, a spokesperson tells Axios, after Trump tweeted comments that some suggested glorified violence amid racial justice protests.

Why it matters: Snapchat is taking action on the president's account for comments he made elsewhere. That's going farther than other big tech firms and signals a commitment to aligning content served to users with core values, rather than making moderation decisions based narrowly on each post made on its own platform.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Esper catches White House off guard with opposition to military use, photo op

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a press briefing Wednesday that he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that permits the president to use active-duty troops on U.S. soil, in order to quell protests against racial injustice.

Why it matters: President Trump threatened this week to deploy military forces if state and local governments aren't able to squash violent protests. Axios reported on Wednesday that Trump is backing off the idea for now, but that he hasn't ruled it out.

Chinese coronavirus test maker agreed to build a Xinjiang gene bank

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A leading Chinese gene sequencing and biomedical firm that said it would build a gene bank in Xinjiang is supplying coronavirus tests around the world.

Why it matters: U.S. officials are worried that widespread coronavirus testing may provide an opportunity for state-connected companies to compile massive DNA databases for research as well as genetics-based surveillance.