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Joe Biden,Donald Trump,Chris Wallace
Trump and Biden during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020 in Cleveland.Patrick Semansky / AP file

By Trump standards, Biden scored a ‘shocking’ economic victory

Five years ago, Donald Trump set a specific standard for “shockingly” good economic growth. The economy under Joe Biden just met that exact same standard.


Americans received some encouraging economic news yesterday, with new data showing economic growth bouncing back over the summer. After disappointing data from the first part of the year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the GDP grew at a 2.6% annualized rate, exceeding expectations.

Several Republican leaders responded to the good news by pretending not to notice it, but HuffPost noted that some prominent GOP lawmakers took the time to downplay the data.

Economists said the third-quarter GDP report showed an overall healthy economy, with strong consumer spending and business investment, along with hints of slowing inflation. Republicans still pooh-poohed it. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, claimed Thursday that “economists have dumbed down economic projections to reflect [Biden’s] struggling policies.”

The Texas Republican added that the 2.6% figure represented “ghost growth,” whatever that means. Rep. Jason Smith, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, was similarly unimpressed with the encouraging economic report.

I wonder if they appreciate the degree to which they were contradicting Donald Trump.

Five years ago, Trump’s Commerce Department released a similar GDP report, and it showed — you guessed it — 2.6% quarterly economic growth. (As it turns out, that 2.6% figure was a preliminary estimate that was later revised down to 2%, but let’s put that aside for now.)

The then-president eagerly boasted about the data, telling reporters, “2.6 is a number that nobody thought they’d see for a long period of time.” The Republican complained that news organizations hadn’t talked enough about it, adding, “2.6 is an unbelievable number.”

As a factual matter, the chest-thumping was misguided. Given the economic circumstances that existed partway through 2017, GDP growth of 2.6% was largely unremarkable and evidence of a generally healthy economy.

But at the time, Trump wouldn’t let this go. A few days after celebrating routine news as “unbelievable,” he held a rally in West Virginia, and continued to tout the data. “Economic growth has surged to 2.6% nationwide,” the Republican bragged, as if 2.6% quarterly growth was truly amazing. “You have to understand what that means: Nobody thought that number was going to happen.”

In reality, pretty much everyone though that number was going to happen.

Three weeks later, Trump had another rally, this time in Arizona, where he continued to pat himself on the back. “[E]conomic growth has surged to 2.6%,” the then-president boasted. “Remember, everybody said, ‘You won’t bring it up to 1%. You won’t bring it up to 1.2%.’” (No one, in reality, had made any such prediction.)

The Republican went on to say that the 2.6% figure was so good it was "shocking" — and was the direct result of his successful economic agenda.

The core problem with Trump’s boasts was that he had no idea what he was talking about. No one had explained the basics to him, so he kept insisting that 2.6% quarterly growth was completely unexpected — which was the opposite of the truth — and proof of his genius, which didn’t make any sense. (His general illiteracy on the subject also led him to confuse quarterly and annual growth rates.)

But five years later, the question for Republicans remains the same: If 2.6% quarterly growth was amazing under Trump, why isn’t it similarly “shocking” under Biden?