Why bad news is good news for Trump – for now
The American election cycle is topsy-turvy. At least in terms of the two main candidates and their popularity, what would normally be down is up.
Criminal charges against Donald Trump keep piling up, but so do his poll numbers in the Republican primary and his campaign finances. Former president defies gravity. Joe Biden, the current president, has the opposite problem – he can’t seem to launch. He doesn’t rise in the polls no matter how well the country is doing.
In almost every country in the world, Biden’s economy is the envy. At 3%, inflation is half of what it is in the EU or UK, unemployment is also low (3.5%), and fears of a recession are fading. The president travels around the US this summer to remind people that key parts of his agenda, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act, have injected trillions of dollars into the US economy, even though interest rates and prices remain above pre-Covid levels.
However, Biden doesn’t seem to be getting much credit for the economic recovery. 54% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s job performance, a few points higher than in March, when a recession seemed more likely and inflation was higher. Moreover, it’s significantly worse than the 32% who disapproved of his record when he was inaugurated in 2021. As the economy improves, his poll numbers decline. There is no such thing as good news.
Biden’s big spending programmes are still in the approvals phase, which contributes to the problem. As the money is dispersed to projects across the country, administration officials say they hope the regular rules of politics will resume and people will see the benefits of what the president has done and reward him for it. The White House dubbed his plan “Bidenomics”. However, there is a risk involved. Meanwhile, Donald Trump faces the opposite situation – bad news isn’t bad news if inflation increases and a recession returns.
This was the message I received from a Trump associate the evening he was indicted in Georgia on charges of interfering with the 2020 election.
Normally, jail time wouldn’t seem like good news for a presidential candidate. As the same associate points out, “I can actually sell that a lot easier than ‘Biden sucks and doesn’t deserve a 2nd term’.” This is different from a claim that Biden is innocent.
Trump’s orbit even thinks this might be a good thing for them. Stunning, but not entirely surprising in this down-is-up world. According to primary polls and campaign donations, Republican voters prefer Trump despite, or perhaps even because of, his legal troubles.
Those on his campaign are betting that voters in decisive areas of the country, like the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, would be so appalled at the idea of sending a former US president to prison that they would vote to elect Trump back into the White House, perhaps hoping he could get himself out of legal jeopardy.
We don’t know yet if this will be how voters see it in November 2024.