October 24, 2019 | Reading Time: 2 minutes

Quick Take: Will a recession hurt Trump?

A few reasons for skepticism.

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The conventional wisdom is that recession will hurt Donald Trump. As Joshua Green reminds us: “All the incumbent presidents who lost reelection—George H.W. Bush in 1992, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and Herbert Hoover in 1932—presided over a recession.”

I’ve been skeptical at the Editorial Board. First, because people don’t vote in their economic interest as much as the commentariat would have us believe. Republican voters, moreover, can be masochists. Close read enough stories about tariffs hurting farmers and you realize that they’ll vote for the Republican even if it kills them.

To the extent that a recession impacts the president’s odds of reelection, I think it has more to do with values and character than it does economics. Trump made promises he could not possibly keep. His tough-guy persona caused a trade war, and that has sparked a recession already being felt in manufacturing states like Wisconsin. If anything, Americans might vote him out just for trying to pull one over on them.

More than anything else, though, I’m skeptical of the assumptions we have come to rely on over the last half century to help us navigate politics. During that time, the Republican Party was the dominant of the two. Its interests were the mainstream’s interests and vice versa. But that is increasingly less the case as we move more into the 21st century. Yale’s Jack Balkin has called Trump a “disjunctive president,” meaning that he’s the turn-buckle between old “political regime” and the one that’s emerging.

Recessions hurt incumbents in the past. Will they hurt again?

I wouldn’t be so sure.

—John Stoehr


  • Today’s edition of the Editorial Board asks why Republicans are lying so much.

  • Kim Hjelmgaard went to Ukraine to report there’s nothing to the accusations against Joe Biden and his son. The real problem: corruption keeps rumors alive.

  • Bloomberg: Trump threatens veto of bill to stop foreign interference in 2020.

  • AP: Ukraine’s president felt Trump’s pressure long before taking office.

  • Mieke Eoyang explains why barging into a SCIF is a BFD.

  • Tim Ryan calls it quits.


  • Lindsey Graham wants the Senate to condemn the House investigation into impeachable offenses by the president. The Democrats in the House are following rules updated by Republicans and approved by Republicans in 2015.

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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