On Monday afternoon, as the major Wall Street indexes dropped sharply, there was no great mystery behind the selloff: investors were recognizing the economic threats posed by the coronavirus outbreak. It was around this time, however, that a Fox Business Network personality posited a different explanation.
Charles Payne, a conservative host, argued -- with a straight face -- that the quadruple-digit Dow Jones drop could be linked directly to Bernie Sanders' victory in the Nevada caucuses two days prior. Asked if he genuinely believed the selloff was related to the Vermont senator, the commentator replied, "Absolutely. There's absolutely no doubt." He added, "The Bernie factor is finally rearing its head in the stock market."
I found this rather amusing a few days ago, basically because it served as a case study in how far conservative media will go. But it was far less funny when Donald Trump echoed the same idea from the White House press briefing room yesterday afternoon.
"I think it took a hit maybe for two reasons. I think [investors] look at the people that you watched debating last night and they say 'if there's even a possibility'" a Democrat is elected the economy will decline, Trump said. "I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves."
It's tempting to note that the president's pitch is burdened by an obvious timeline problem: the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,000 points on Monday, and the Democratic presidential primary debate was on Tuesday. Even if one is inclined to take the argument seriously, this would only make sense if investors had access to a time machine.
That said, to take the argument seriously would be a mistake. The stock market is not falling because investors fear the possibility of a Democratic presidential inauguration 11 months from now. That's plainly bonkers.
The president also told reporters yesterday, "I really think the stock market is something I know a lot about." The Republican quickly proceeded to prove the opposite.
In fairness, Trump had other culprits in mind. Reflecting on the Wall Street downturn, he blamed a combination of the coronavirus outbreak, the Federal Reserve, Boeing, and General Motors.
But the president's principal villains were the candidates who have the audacity to run against him. Trump specifically argued yesterday that the Democratic presidential hopefuls are having "a huge effect" on the stock market, adding that "quite a bit" of the selloff can be attributed to the rhetoric from Tuesday night's debate.
Obviously, no fair-minded person could possibly take this seriously, but it's worth remembering anyway -- because if the economy sours in the months leading up to Election Day 2020, Trump already has an absurd line he'll use to blame the decline on his political foes.