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2016 Strategy For GOP: Play Down The Economy

Politics Tribune News Service

2016 Strategy For GOP: Play Down The Economy

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush looks on prior to speaking at the 2014 National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, DC, November 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

DES MOINES, Iowa — For years, President Barack Obama had a singular problem: convincing Americans who were not feeling the economic recovery that it was real and a cause for optimism, not to mention for electing fellow Democrats.

Now Republicans seeking to capture the White House find themselves on the brink of the reverse dilemma: how to dismiss the economic revival that many Americans seem finally to be embracing.

For the party out of power, better economic times always pose strategic difficulties. In 2016, Republicans must argue that Democrats have so fumbled their handling of the nation’s economy — the No. 1 issue for voters — that they should be booted from power. But that requires a huge dose of pessimism that runs the risk of making Republicans seem out of touch with the nation’s increasingly upbeat mood.

As top Republican White House prospects gathered this past weekend for a forum in Des Moines, they seemed to have come to a temporary solution: talk about foreign policy, or immigration, or the power of a mother’s love — anything but a deep dive into the issue that has overarched the last two presidential campaigns.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made brief stabs at the discomfort that persists beneath the budding optimism, particularly among financially stressed Americans. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dismissed the improving jobless numbers as ephemeral and blamed Obama’s health care measure for forcing full-time workers into part-time jobs. But there was little on the order of solutions, other than the Republican standbys of shrinking the size and sway of government and lowering taxes.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who skipped the Iowa event, framed what probably will be the GOP argument if the economy stays as it is through the November 2016 election.

“Sixty percent of Americans believe that we’re still in a recession,” Bush said in part of a broader critique of Obama’s tenure during a Friday speech in San Francisco. “They’re not dumb. It’s because they are in a recession. They’re frustrated, and they see a small portion of the population on the economy’s up escalator. Portfolios are strong, but paychecks are weak. Millions of Americans want to move forward in their lives, they want to rise, but they’re losing hope.”

That approach is complicated: Republicans are seen by many voters, particularly those who turn out in greater numbers in presidential cycles, as the party of the people with portfolios, so arguing the underclass’s case requires an image adjustment. And the argument could lose potency if the economy continues to improve in the 22 months before presidential ballots are cast.

The recovery could also fall apart, but in recent months Americans seem less inclined to expect so. A Gallup poll last week found 41 percent of Americans satisfied with the economy; a year earlier the figure was 28 percent. Consumer confidence is riding higher than it has since the 2008 economic collapse. The percentage of people who believe the country is on the right track has risen sharply. Obama’s approval ratings likewise are higher, offering a potential leg up for his party’s chosen successor.

There are two precedents, with different outcomes, for how economic recovery can play out as a party seeks the historically rare third successive term, as Democrats will in 2016. Both involved candidates named Bush.

In 1988, as vice president, George H.W. Bush argued that the country’s fiscal position at the end of the Reagan administration should persuade voters to side with him over Democrat Michael Dukakis.

As Bush argued when he accepted the Republican nomination, “When you have to change horses in midstream, doesn’t it make sense to switch to the one who’s going the same way?”

Twelve years later, Bush’s son — and Jeb Bush’s brother — George W. Bush faced a similar set of circumstances from the opposite side, challenging Vice President Al Gore during a time of economic prosperity and general optimism. Bush won, exploiting fatigue over the personal escapades of President Bill Clinton and adopting a wildly optimistic tone himself.

“We will use these good times for great goals,” he said in his first convention speech. “And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country.”

That tone has largely been missing from the Republican conversation so far, in part because anger is a far better propellant for the party out of power. David Bossie of the Citizens United political group, which co-sponsored the Iowa event, was practically apocalyptic onstage, declaring that “our country is mired in darkness.”

Christie and Santorum took different approaches when they spoke.

In a manner reminiscent of Jeb Bush, the New Jersey governor outlined the “anxiety” he said he found in voters before the 2014 midterm election, which he blamed on income stagnation. No proposals for solving it were forthcoming, and Christie then moved to a long discourse about his anti-abortion position and his relationship with his mother — an extended anecdote meant to assure Iowans that he would always tell them the truth.

Santorum took more aggressive aim — at his own party.

“You want to show that we’re relating to folks who are working in America? Then we have to go out and prove it,” said Santorum, who has positioned himself as the party’s blue-collar champion. He noted that the party had allied itself with business owners, rather than the far larger pool of employees.

“We don’t win because too many people don’t think we care about them,” he said. “We’ve got to show them — not just by saying we do but by having policies and a message where they can see it and they can feel it in us.”

Craig Robinson, a former Iowa Republican Party operative and founder of the Iowa Republican political website, said that so far none of the candidates appeared to have hit on a solution for how to manage optimism.

“The Republicans need to start talking about it as: Imagine what the economy would be if we did X, Y and Z,” he said. “They need to make the argument that it could be even better.”

Los Angeles Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak in San Francisco contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb



  1. FireBaron January 27, 2015

    As the GOP is going to downplay the economy, does that mean we are not going to see a jobs bill from this Congress, either?

    1. Sand_Cat January 27, 2015

      Oh, didn’t you hear? The GOP House passed over 300 bills that the Senate didn’t (thank god!). Many of them were “jobs bills” that would have allowed billionaires to hire more servants.

      1. FireBaron January 27, 2015

        Good thing McConnell filibustered most of them, so President Obama didn’t get any credit for anything,

      2. Dominick Vila January 28, 2015

        …and dancing horse groomers!

    2. Bren Frowick January 28, 2015

      The only thing they ever mention that might vaguely be called a “jobs bill” is Keystone, a White Elephant with lots of environmental worries that isn’t even economically viable with oil at under $50/barrel. And that only creates 35 jobs…

  2. Frank KIng January 27, 2015

    Playing down are they. W ell, I guess it’s better than trying to undermine it beyond repair as they have done since the dolt, Reagan, and his right wing successors determined that trickle down, voodoo economics is the only way to keep money, wealth in the hands of their cronies in and out of congress.

  3. Dominick Vila January 28, 2015

    I don’t blame Jeb for this decision. Denying the strength of our economy, the job creation record of the last few years, and substantial reductions in deficit spending, the only recourse for pragmatic Republican candidates is a return to Old Faithfuls: abortion, same sex marriage, illegal immigrants, Muslims, communists, and the rest of the traditional Republican repertoire. Fortunately for us, there are still plenty of Republicans determined to make fools of themselves denying the obvious, suddenly embracing what they described as Class Warfare not so long ago, and never offering an alternative or viable solutions.

  4. bobnstuff January 28, 2015

    The GOP which is supposed to be the party of business can’t talk
    about the economy. I don’t think they can avoid it, but fear not they
    will lie through their teeth and their base will believe every word
    of it just like they did with the ACA. Facts don’t stop them.

    1. dpaano February 10, 2015

      No, the GOP rules with lies and scare tactics. Unfortuntely, their base believes every word they say because they don’t know any better!

  5. Eric Lipps January 28, 2015

    Leaving aside he minor detail that the younger Bush didn’t exactly “win,” but was awarded the presidency by a bare majority of a Supreme Court seven of whose members belonged to his party, two of whom had been appointed by his father and at least one of whom (Sandra Day O’Connor) said on election night that it was “terrible” that it looked as though Gore would win because she wanted to retire, but would only do so of a Republican president were in office to name her successor—leaving that aside, I say, considering that Jeb, if elected, would be following in the footsteps of two family members who both trashed the U.S. economy, so no wonder he’d rather not talk about that issue.

    As for his father, his bit about changing horses could be used to argue against electing any Republican. It only works for the GOP when they’re already in power.

    And Rick Santorum really stepped in it when he said, “We don’t win because too many people don’t think we care about them.” He might as well admit that “too many people” know the GOP doesn’t care about them, as Mitt Romney confessed outright in 2012 when he wrote off almost half the electorate as lazy üntermenschen who would never “take responsibility for their lives.”

    Chris Christie shouldn’t even bother. He was the golden boy of the 2012 convention, but he shot his presidential hopes right in the head when after Hurricane Sandy he committed the unspeakable sin of praising President Obama’s leadership in dealing with the emergency.

  6. gococksri January 29, 2015

    Beyond the fact that Jeb’s brother engineered the financial meltdown that has changed the economic landscape for at least one generation and probably two, Jeb doesn’t apparently realize that GOP obstruction has prevented the recovery from moving more quickly. While Mitt Romney was spewing his nonsense about the U.S. “becoming like Greece,” he was promoting the very austerity policies that were making the European recovery almost impossible. The American Worker? He doesn’t have a chance now that Republicans have gutted collective bargaining. It is as if the GOP has said to the American Worker: “Screw you. You’re on your own.” I’m not one of those who thinks raising the minimum wage will accelerate the recovery, but it’s stupid to think that it won’t help people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And don’t bring up the “job loss” issue per the minimum wage—the CBO has explained its position and economists are by-and-large in agreement that not many jobs will be lost relative to the gains made by workers. In the meantime, neither Jeb nor any of the others offer actual plans for economic reconstruction. Oh, wait, yes they do: Cut taxes for the wealthy.


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