Just ahead of news that US GDP grew at a solid but unspectacular 1.9 percent rate in the third quarter, President Donald Trump posted a tweet Wednesday morning touting what he described as “The Greatest Economy in American History!”
The Greatest Economy in American History!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2019
But the tweet in fact serves as a vivid illustration of how Trump is lowering expectations for himself. Because just over seven years ago, when the economy grew at the exact same rate under President Barack Obama, Trump cited the 1.9 percent number as evidence that “the economy is in deep trouble.”
Q1 GDP has just been revised down to 1.9% http://t.co/tX9ij8KQ The economy is in deep trouble.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2012
What a difference seven years and a successful presidential campaign make.
The third quarter’s 1.9 percent growth figure comes on the heels of the economy growing at a 2 percent pace in the second quarter. It should be noted that these growth figures are not far out of step with the 2 to 3 percent growth that’s ideal for healthy developed economies. But they pale in comparison to what Trump said during a presidential campaign in which he repeatedly said he expected the economy to grow by as much as 5 or 6 percent.
“That’s why I believe it’s time to establish a national goal of reaching 4 percent economic growth,” Trump said during a September 2016 speech. “And my great economists don’t want me to say this, but I think we can do better than that. Now, they’re upset. They’ll be very upset. But I think we can do, and maybe substantially better than, that.”
As recently as just over a year ago, Trump was still hyping that GDP growth would exceed 4 percent under his watch — a number that seems increasingly out of reach given the economy’s trajectory this year.
GDP, of course, is just one economic metric. Trump’s tweet on Wednesday likely also alluded to the unemployment rate, which, at 3.5 percent, is at its lowest in 50 years. But that figure comes with an asterisk. As my colleague Alexia Fernández Campbell detailed, the latest jobs report showed that wages actually fell in September. And as I wrote about earlier this month, the domestic manufacturing sector is not only contracting but, according to one key metric, is at its lowest level of activity since the Great Recession — in large part because of Trump’s self-inflicted trade war.
While the overall state of the economy is solid, the latest GDP growth figure is some of the strongest evidence yet that Trump’s hopes of running for reelection on the strength of a superheated economy are looking increasingly dicey. And if you don’t believe me, just ask the May 2012 version of Trump.