Trump Right to Focus on Jobs Over Debt

GOP nominee's focused economic appeal on growth, wages is resonating

A new CBS News poll has highlighted a key problem with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s plan to win the White House.

According to the poll, conducted in 13 battleground states, 55 percent of registered voters think the economy is in “fairly bad” or “very bad” shape.

The national debt, despite approaching $20 trillion, would be a distraction from his fundamental appeal on restoring Americans’ jobs and wage growth.

They are large numbers, especially considering the Great Recession technically ended seven years ago, in the summer of 2009.

The numbers alone should cause the Clinton camp to sweat. Voters lay the blame for the malaise squarely at the feet of the current administration.

The survey found 67 percent of voters who say the economy is bad blame President Obama. Another 21 percent assign him part of the blame.

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Republican Donald Trump leads Clinton on the economic change question. Fifty-three percent of Hillary Clinton’s voters say she will make the economy better for people like them, while 59 percent of Trump supporters say he will make the economy better for his supporters.

And in a recent Fox News poll, 51 percent of likely voters say Trump will make the economy better, as opposed to 44 percent saying Hillary Clinton will do a better job.

American jobs are a winning issue for Trump, and one he likely cannot win without. For now, he’s leading Clinton on the issue. But as he accelerates toward Election Day, he cannot stumble on it, or focus on another shiny economic issue like those that tripped Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.

[lz_table title=”CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker” source=”CBS News”]|Condition of the Economy
Very Good: 6%
Fairly Good: 39%
Fairly Bad: 37%
Very Bad: 18%

In short, it’s the job-producing economy, stupid, and not the convoluted issue of the government budget and debt.

The debt is an esoteric threat to many of the swing voters who will decide the 2016 election. What everyone can relate to is their own debt, and the travails they will face if they have no job, their wages remain stagnant, or if their small business shutters.

The measurable impact on their own lives from out-of-control spending and debt in Washington is more elusive.

Of course, that isn’t to say the need for action isn’t there. According to the U.S. Debt Clock, the national debt as of today is $19.5 trillion, with $14 trillion of that held by the public — i.e., private investors, banks, and foreign nations. The rest is owed to other U.S. government agencies, such as Social Security.

In the past, the national debt and the annual deficit that Congress and the White House have accumulated have made for good talking points. President Barack Obama used the debt and deficit against the Republicans in 2008, calling the accumulation of such debt “unpatriotic.”

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Obama said the $9 trillion in debt (at the time) was too large a number. Obama entered office with the nation on the hook for $10.6 trillion.

He then proceeded to almost double the nation’s debt in eight years. It’s a tempting issue for Trump to target. But the truth is, there are so many issues that a successful presidential candidate can use. The national debt, despite approaching $20 trillion, would be a distraction from his fundamental appeal on restoring Americans’ jobs and wage growth.

First, voters are well aware of Washington’s irresponsible spending patterns. It began in the early 1980s, when voters were concerned with the debt approaching $1 trillion when President Ronald Reagan took office.

After two wars and two recessions in the 2000s, the issue hit its highest relevancy. Republicans became alarmed at the debt rising under their own president. When the Democrats took back congressional majorities in 2007, they promised restraint. It didn’t happen.

By 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney thought he had a sharp issue to use against Obama. A new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives had already forced a successful “sequestration” of the budget in 2011. It seemed as if the people and the GOP were on the same page.

So Romney picked a deficit hawk, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, as his running mate.

On Oct. 1, 2012, The New York Times reported a change in Romney’s campaign: “Mr. Romney’s campaign appears to be shifting course, abandoning its hope of making the election a simple referendum on Mr. Obama’s jobs record. Instead, Mr. Romney intends to hit the White House with a series of arguments — on energy, health care, taxes, spending and a more direct attack on Mr. Obama’s foreign policy record.”

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The move proved a bridge too far. Independent voters and soft Democrats were more worried about budget cuts to favorite programs such as Social Security  and food stamps, and Republicans wanted deeper tax cuts than Romney wanted to commit to.

And then Romney lost.

FiveThirtyEight.com notes that congressional mentions of “deficit” peaked in 2011 at 8,101. “The count declined to 1,543 mentions in 2015,” they wrote.

The debt has to be an issue behind the curtain somewhat. It has to be an issue Congress tackles in concert with the economy next year. But it is not a political ace in the hole for Trump or congressional Republicans in the 2016 election.

Trump so far is on the right track.

In 1992, Bill Clinton successfully won office by reminding himself that “it’s the economy, stupid.” It’s a lesson still valid today. Trump cannot forget that for millions of Americans, the “economy” has more to do with jobs and economic expansion than the national debt.

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Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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