The 1992 Bill Clinton election campaign war room had a sign that said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That was intended as a constant reminder to campaign staff that they were to focus on U.S. economic performance almost exclusively in their efforts.
This reminder was refined slightly in the mantra “Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment” that Clinton repeated incessantly in his stump speech. Clinton had come from nowhere to become the Democratic nominee and challenge George H.W. Bush, who was running for reelection.
Bush oversaw the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) during his first term. He was also the victor in the first Gulf War (1991) to repel Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Bush’s approval ratings in 1991 were over 90%. He looked unbeatable for reelection in 1992, which is one reason so few Democrats jumped into the race.
Yet Bush had an Achilles’ heel, which was the economy. The U.S. had a fairly mild recession from July 1990–March 1991. The recovery was weak and most Americans believed we were still in recession in 1992 even though the recession was technically over by then. Jobs are a lagging indicator and many workers who were laid off in 1991 still had not returned to work by 1992.
Clinton’s strategist, James Carville, understood that jobs were more important than foreign policy triumphs. He urged Clinton to run on the economy, and Clinton won.
In fact, presidents running for a second term almost always win reelection unless there is a recession late in the first term. That’s what cost Bush and Jimmy Carter their reelections. Otherwise, it’s smooth sailing for second term victories.
The good news for Trump is that he fits the mold of presidents heading for reelection. According to this article, a new projection by Moody’s shows Trump winning as many as 351 electoral votes (only 270 electoral votes are needed to be president). Moody’s analysis is based on state-by-state economic conditions and historical voting patterns, not polls.
Trump should win all of the swing states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin) and pick up new states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Minnesota, New Hampshire, Virginia).
It looks like a victory of historic proportions for Trump — as long as he avoids a recession.
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