Democrats shouldn’t pop the champagne over sub-3 percent economic growth

Washington Post reporters Chico Harlan and Jim Tankersley spike the ball on behalf of the Democrats in an article called “Healthy economy forces Republicans to rethink Obama-skewering strategy.” Their talking point is that our “robust economy. . .is threatening the longtime Republican strategy of criticizing President Obama for holding back growth and hiring, forcing the GOP to overhaul its messaging at the beginnings of a presidential campaign.”

Harlan and Tankersley rely on the assessments of GOP “economic strategists.” But if we focus on the statements of leading GOP politicians, the Post’s claim of Republican “rethink” fizzles. For example, according to Harlan and Tankersley:

Jeb Bush, considered a leading candidate to win the GOP nomination next year, began testing a message this week in Detroit, speaking directly to the struggles and frustrations of the middle class.

Similarly:

Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, have all said in television interviews that the recovery is not lifting ordinary Americans in the way that it should.

That sounds like “Obama-skewering” to me.

It also sounds familiar. This thesis was a major component of the Republican message during the 2014 campaign. If I recall correctly, it served the GOP rather well.

Has the economic picture changed materially for the better since the Fall of 2014? I don’t believe so. GDP growth in the second and third quarters of 2014 was significantly above 4 percent. In the last quarter it was only 2.6 percent. For the full year, the growth rate was 2.4, about the same as in 2012 and 2013.

To be sure, Republicans would be better situated politically if they could claim that our economy is still in a recession. But the recovery we have witnessed to date shouldn’t scare the GOP from attacking President Obama’s economic stewardship. The numbers that so impress Harlan and Tankersley didn’t impress the electorate three months ago. If we put these numbers in perspective, as George Will and Jack Kelly have, it’s easy to see why.

The big question, of course, is what the economy will look like in the Fall of 2016. By then, it may finally have picked up enough steam to serve as a genuine Democratic talking point. Or it may be slowing down or even in recession. (Past experience suggests that we’re “due” for a reversal in the next year and a half or so, but I admit that this experience is with robust recoveries, not the tepid one we’ve experienced under Obama).

In any event, this much seems likely: the economic record under Obama will fall considerably short of the economic record under Bill Clinton. And we know that the economic record under Bill Clinton wasn’t sufficient to put Al Gore in the White House (though it very nearly was).

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