Trump talks up economic progress, after Harris-Pence debate focused on job losses

“The American economy — the American comeback — is on the ballot,” Vice President Mike Pence said during Wednesday's debate.
Image: Vice President Mike Pence Holds A Campaign Rally In Nevada
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a rally at the Boulder City Airport on Oct. 8, 2020 in Boulder City, Nevada.Ethan Miller / Getty Images

President Donald Trump quickly put the economic focus back on himself Thursday morning, after Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, which covered more economic issues than his barb-trading battle with Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

“Our numbers are going to be great, our numbers for the third quarter are going to be through the roof, retail sales, employment, all of these numbers are going to be great,” Trump told Fox Business Network in a phone-in interview.

The president said he had shut down stimulus talks because both sides were haggling over terms and “it wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. “I don’t want to play games. And then we reopened, and I see the markets are doing well but I think we have a really good chance of doing something."

Wednesday's debate brought a more civil tone atop simmering tensions between the two candidates and covered, albeit briefly in the two-minute response allotment, more economic issues.

With permanent layoffs rising and recovery slowing, money is very much on the mind for many households.

“The American economy — the American comeback — is on the ballot,” Vice President Mike Pence said.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., made it clear that economic recovery can’t happen without organized coronavirus relief and response, said John Hudak, senior fellow for governance studies at The Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank.

Pence came out to make the “tough argument” that he and President Trump will rebuild the economy back to where it was before Covid-19, Hudak said. But that line of discussion is challenging to uphold because part of that recovery is predicated on further relief — which is currently in limbo after Trump called off stimulus talks.

“Both tickets have weaknesses on the economy and opposing candidates worked to exploit those,” Hudak said.

Conservative economists praised Pence’s performance on the key issue of taxation.

“Pence is absolutely right that raising taxes in 2021 would be mistaken,” said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “The economy needs support from fiscal policy. Raising taxes would provide the opposite.”

Left-leaning economists said Pence failed to move the needle, however.

“Pence basically just restated the old position that huge tax cuts are magic pixie dust for the economy despite that having been disproven many times,” said Austan Goolsbee, former senior economic adviser to President Barack Obama, in an email.

"The economy was producing higher-quality employment nearly right up to the point that Trump was inaugurated."

“Harris highlighting the problems with that and also the impact of Covid mismanagement on the economy were on target, but the moderator just sort of moved on to other topics without them going into more detail,” he said.

Niche economic issues stuck out as both candidates played to undecided voters in battleground states.

"A lot of the discussion was clearly driven by swing states issues, like fracking in Pennsylvania, autos in Michigan, and dairy in Wisconsin,” said Nick Mazing, director of research for data provider Sentieo. “I almost expected a lobster mention for Maine's 2nd congressional district, which went for Trump in 2016."

During the debate Pence claimed the Trump administration in its first three years created 500,000 manufacturing jobs. Harris countered by claiming the China trade war cost 300,000 manufacturing jobs.

A recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that the U.S. has lost overall more than 91,000 manufacturing plants and 5 million manufacturing jobs since 1997. It is true that the U.S. gained about 500,000 manufacturing jobs from 2016 to 2019, largely due to increased domestic purchasing from tax cuts and increased federal spending.

Labor economists said both candidates whiffed on a key jobs point.

“What both candidates failed to mention — and Harris should have been prepped to say — is that the jobs created during the Trump administration have been overwhelmingly low-wage/low hours jobs,” Daniel Alpert, senior fellow in financial macroeconomics at Cornell Law School, said in an email.

“Trump was in office during the last 3.25 years of one of the longest recoveries in history. At the tail end of a recovery, economies are supposed to produce more high-quality employment. And the economy was producing such higher quality employment nearly right up to the point that Trump was inaugurated. All that progress was reversed in this administration,” Alpert said.