At the latest Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Donald Trump peddled a curious boast:
“We gave you the largest tax cuts and regulation cuts in American history. That’s why we had the job numbers. And don’t forget: You have not good job numbers right now.”
Even for the former president, this was bizarre. The day before he delivered these remarks, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its latest report showing 528,000 new jobs were created in July — a blockbuster report, well ahead of expectations — and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent, matching a 50-year low.
I don’t know how Trump defines “not good,” but since the start of last year, the economy has created roughly 10 million jobs — easily outpacing the first three years of the Republican’s presidency combined. In fact, the job totals just from 2022 are stronger than any individual year of Trump’s term, and 2022 has several months remaining.
But in an odd way, the fact that the former president was even willing to broach the subject with a lie was a break with partisan trends — because for many months, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have pretended not to notice job numbers at all.
The problem is not that GOP leaders are unaware of current events. Two weeks ago, for example, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that gross domestic product fell 0.9 percent in the second quarter, it took House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy just 22 minutes to announce that the United States is now “in a recession.” The California Republican took the same message to the airwaves soon after.
Around the same time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did the same thing, seizing on the data he found politically convenient to denounce Democratic governance.
Given all of this Republican interest in economic data, I was eager to see McCarthy’s and McConnell’s reaction to job numbers that proved that the United States is not, in fact, currently in a recession.
But wouldn’t you know it, GOP leaders on the Hill responded to the job numbers by saying literally nothing about the good news. These same Republicans were similarly at a loss for words a month ago. And the month before that. And the month before that. And the month before that.
Circling back to our recent coverage, it seemed at least possible leading Republican officials would argue that Democrats don’t deserve credit for the good news. Or perhaps they’d argue that robust job growth was inevitable after the 2020 recession. Maybe they’d even try to say that Trump was somehow responsible for creating economic conditions he had nothing to do with.
But McConnell and McCarthy, both of whom took great interest in the GDP numbers from the week before, instead ignored the economic news altogether: No press releases, no tweets, and no public comments. They literally found themselves speechless — again.
As regular readers may recall, it was more than a year ago when we saw the worst month for job growth since Biden’s inauguration: In April 2021, the economy created 269,000 jobs. Under normal circumstances, that would’ve constituted a great total, but with the country still climbing out of its pandemic-driven hole, the April 2021 report was a disappointment.
Republicans wasted no time in pouncing on the data, blaming Democrats for the shortfall. McCarthy released this press statement soon after the data was released: “Today’s disappointing jobs report confirms once again that President Biden’s tax-and-spend policies are bad for American workers, families, and small businesses.... Experts are calling this jobs report the ‘worst miss in 23 years’, and it was a direct result of President Biden’s counterproductive policies. So President Biden is not fixing a crisis, but creating new ones.”
In the days that followed, the House GOP leader continued to make a direct connection between the White House’s economic agenda and the U.S. job market. A week after April numbers were released, McCarthy again argued, “President Biden and Democrats will make excuses for this abysmal reality, but the truth is their own massive spending agenda created this problem.”
It wasn’t just McCarthy. The Republican National Committee connected Biden’s policies and job growth over and over and over again. McConnell’s Senate website last year blamed “persistent unemployment” on Democrats.
There was one important problem with this strategy: It was apparently based on the idea that the U.S. job market would continue to fall short for the indefinite future.
It did the opposite: Job growth has been on a hot streak with few rivals in modern history.
The political problem for Republicans is obvious: If a discouraging monthly jobs report last year was proof that the Democratic economic agenda is a failure, then several months’ worth of encouraging monthly jobs reports is necessarily evidence that the Democratic economic agenda is a success.
The more GOP leaders say Biden is directly responsible for the nation’s economic conditions, the easier it is for the Democratic White House to take credit when those conditions look great.
It’s okay for Republicans to applaud good news for their own country. When the unemployment rate reached 3.6 percent in the last administration, for example, McCarthy was eager to celebrate. Does he care to explain why he has so little to say now that the rate is 3.5 percent?