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Obama Campaign Chief Says Trump Leads Biden on Economy

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Who’s going to win the 2020 presidential election? Political strategists Karl Rove, architect of George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, and Jim Messina, campaign manager for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection, agreed Tuesday that who wins the White House hinges on the economy.

“The economy is always the No. 1 issue in presidential elections,” said Messina, a consultant who heads The Messina Group in San Francisco, on a Zoom cast held by the American Council for Capital Formation. “Right now, despite his really bad poll numbers, President Trump still leads Joe Biden by 5 points on who’s better on the economy, which is sort of his lifeline.”

The U.S., Messina added, is “now in a full recession. These swing voters now have an average of 2.5 jobs and are really feeling the brunt of this economy.”

Rove, who also served as senior advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000 to 2007 and deputy chief of staff from 2004 to 2007, agreed.

“Jim’s right; the economy is a referendum on the future, which is why Trump has got a possibility of turning this [election] because nobody blames him for the bad economy,” Rove said. “They blame the virus. So the question is going to be: who’s best able to bring us back to the economic prosperity that we were feeling in November, December, January and February?”

Trump “has an advantage on this [economy] that’s been pretty durable, … so he’s in the game because of that.”

As it stands now, Biden has “been unable to lay out an economic vision for the future, and unable to sort of say to the people, ‘this is what I would do as president and this is why I should be elected,’” Messina said.

To remedy this, the No. 1 move that Biden must take is “to have some proposals, and he needs to lay it out in a way that makes sense. He ought to be very specific about policy here, and he ought to talk about things that can unite the country,” Messina said.

With 140 days before the election, “the one thing we know about America is that America is now the most partisan country in the world,” Messina said on the Zoom cast, titled “Politics, the COVID Economy and the 2020 Election.”

He continued, “I now run campaigns around the world and we’ve done 12 presidential races in the past six years on five continents, and what you see there is about a third to 40% of the voters who are available to the various parties; in the United States, only between 8% to 10% of Americans are really thinking about voting for both Joe Biden and Donald Trump.”

That said, Trump’s two other hurdles are the virus and the death of George Floyd.

As to the COVID crisis, “now 66% of independents and 61% of Americans say Trump handled it poorly.”

“You can argue whether he did and you can argue whether he didn’t,” Messina said. “That’s kinda where the voters are.”

Rove countered, however, that he’s “not sure how much the president is going to suffer because of his handling of COVID.” That being said, “the coronavirus, again, it’s a virus, so Jim’s right that there’s going to be an argument about ‘did you handle it correctly.’”

Both Rove and Messina agreed that voters should not follow the polls.

“This race is going to tighten,” Messina said. “Don’t believe any of these polls — it’s going to be very close. But the president faces historic challenges, and I would be surprised if he were a winner in November, but of course we were all surprised four years ago.”

— Check out Greg Valliere: Turning Point in Coronavirus Crisis Is Near on ThinkAdvisor.