President Donald Trump is already planning out who to blame if and when a recession strikes the United States economy heading into the 2020 election, according to Politico.
Though administration officials are publicly downplaying the likelihood of a recession, behind the scenes, they know such a downturn would spell trouble for Trump’s re-election chances.
Many of Trump’s political allies acknowledge that his reelection prospects hinge in large part on how Americans judge their economic prospects at the time of the next election. And many independent analysts say that recent market turbulence is a warning sign that the U.S. economy will likely slow and maybe even tip into recession by 2020.
At the moment, that scenario could be the biggest threat to Trump’s chances at winning a second term, according to interviews with eight current and former senior administration officials and close White House advisers.
Senior administration officials like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have maintained that gross domestic product and inflation numbers are healthy, but these are not the most significant metrics for voters, who tend to watch wages, unemployment, and the housing and stock markets.
"They know it could be a very dangerous situation if the market volatility is hurting workers in key battleground states through their pensions, investments, you name it,” said one Republican close to the White House. “The concern is probably at a DEFCON 3 at this point, but it will definitely spike in 2019 if there's no real solution [to the trade dispute with China] during this 90-day period.”
Trump himself appears to be prepping for a slowdown by identifying scapegoats. Chief among them, for the moment, is Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell. Just last week, Trump blamed the independent Fed for the drop in the stock market as well as a recent plant-closing announcement by General Motors. Speaking to The Washington Post, Trump said he was “not even a little bit happy” with Powell, whom he nominated to run the Fed.
Advisers also said Trump will likely blame any outgoing administration officials, as well as the usual scapegoat of Democrats — namely Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to be the incoming House speaker in January.
"He's going to blame [Commerce Secretary] Wilbur Ross for some of these problems once Ross leaves,” said the Republican. “And if any of his advisers walk, he'll blame them too."
"It’s not just a talking point for reelection but one about his legacy," said one former senior administration official. "The president wants to be able to say, 'I handled the economy better than Obama.'"