On Friday morning, the latest data on domestic economic growth was released, and we learned that the economy grew at an annualized pace of 2.6% in the second quarter, covering April to June. At a White House cabinet meeting this morning, Donald Trump pointed to the figure as proof of his underappreciated successes. From the official transcript:
"We have a GDP, on Friday -- it got very little mention, although I guess in the business areas it did. But it got, I think, very little mention. 2.6 is a number that nobody thought they'd see for a long period of time.... And 2.6 is an unbelievable number, announced on Friday."
It's hard to say with confidence whether Trump has any idea what the GDP is or what the quarterly reports show, but 2.6% growth is clearly not an "unbelievable number." It's actually quite believable.
Indeed, when the president says "nobody" expected to see quarterly growth of 2.6 "for a long period of time," that plainly ridiculous. As recently as last fall, which really isn't that long ago, we saw 2.8% growth.
Throughout the Obama era, most notably after the Great Recession ended, we saw plenty of individual quarters in which growth topped 4% and, at one point, 5%. Barack Obama didn't do much to pat himself on the back, and the Democratic White House didn't tout the figures as "unbelievable." They were simply seen as evidence of a domestic economy that was growing steadily.
What's more, given the fact that Trump hasn't approved any major economic legislation, every time he celebrates the economic news from the first half of his first year in office, he's really just touting the economy he inherited from his predecessor.
But here's the awkward question for the White House and its allies: does Trump not realize that 2.6% quarterly growth is a fairly common figure in recent years, and not worth getting excited about? When the president makes the case that 2.6% growth is "a number that nobody thought they'd see for a long period of time," is he unaware of how completely wrong that is?
Because given comments like the ones he made this morning, it's hard not to get the impression that Trump's policy illiteracy includes the basics of economic data.
In fact, it's not just GDP reports. Trump spent a year and a half insisting that U.S. job reports are fake, manipulated by politicians desperate to mislead the public with made-up data. Now, however, the president is cherry picking from those same reports, looking for something he can brag about.
Two weeks ago, unaware of how foolish this sounded, he declared in reference to official U.S. job data, "For a long time, they don't matter. But now I accept those numbers very proudly." He might as well have confessed, "Numbers that made Obama look good didn't count, but everyone should now agree how awesome I am."
When it comes to the most basic of economic data, Trump doesn't seem to understand what he's saying. Is there no one in the White House who can explain this stuff to him?