2018 midterms

Why Trump Isn’t Talking More About the Economy

There’s a reason why Trump’s pre-midterms rallies didn’t look like this. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Four days before Election Day, most polling puts Democrats within striking distance of regaining the House. Republicans need some good news, and on Friday, they seemed to get it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the American economy added 250,000 jobs in October and wages increased, by a little:

October’s relatively strong jobs report mostly shows that President Trump has not reversed positive growth trends that began during the Obama administration. Even so, job growth should be good news for the GOP, which customarily justifies its hostility toward welfare as a commitment to job creation over government dependence. But Friday’s report might not help the GOP — and not just because it’s come close to Election Day, with early voting surging in battleground states. It’s difficult to see how jobs news can break into the preelection news cycle Trump has orchestrated. For days, Trump has been obsessed with the migrant caravan headed for the U.S. border with Mexico. He’s called it an invasion, urged border officers to consider thrown rocks the equivalent of rifles, and ordered an unprecedented buildup of U.S. military might at the border.

Trump’s prejudices are well-known. His conviction that migrants pose some horrific threat to the U.S. is probably sincere, even though it is not based in reality. But Trump also understands that his prejudice is a galvanizing one, a motivating issue for the voters who made him president; thus he returned to this theme in the days before a pivotal election. Some members of his party, however, would rather he changed his focus. “We understand this is an issue that motivates his base, but the economic issues are what we really need to win these swing voters because they are who’s going to decide who controls the House,” a GOP official told Politico on Thursday.

Some Republicans would certainly prefer that their party be known for job growth instead of conspiratorial anti-migrant fantasies. But Trump’s prejudices aren’t unique to him — especially within the ranks of elected Republicans — and even if they were, Republicans have some fairly solid reasons to avoid running on the economy. The GOP’s tax cuts remain unpopular because they mostly benefit the wealthy; the average American worker, meanwhile, can still face significant economic pressure from other angles.

Take health care: Though the Affordable Care Act’s market changes appear to have stabilized, health-care costs are still rising. Those costs eat into wages. Even if a worker gets health insurance through their employer, high health-care costs make insurance more expensive for employers, and that cost eventually trickles down to workers. ACA premiums appear set to increase again next year. Wages still aren’t as robust as they should be, and housing costs are going up. Younger workers in particular still shoulder crushing loads of student debt.

Furthermore, as promising as October’s jobs report turned out to be, it still contained signs of trouble. “The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was essentially unchanged at 4.6 million in October,” it found. “These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs.” The average American work week, meanwhile, slightly increased. That’s more pay for workers who need it, but as Bryce Covert noted in a piece for The Nation earlier this year, Americans already work “about 20 more hours each year” than people in other developed nations.

Americans can find jobs. They’re just working long hours with little to show for it in the end. No wonder Trump would rather talk about the caravan.

Why Trump Isn’t Talking More About the Economy