The problem with linking market growth to his policies, of course, is that it begs the question of why markets might sometimes stumble. If Trump gets credit for markets going up, doesnt he take blame when they drop? Trumps philosophy about it, though, is a sort of derivation of the Christian concept of God deserving credit for success while setbacks are human failures. For Trump, a market heading up is a manifestation of his will. A market heading down is others failing to do their part.
In early 2018, the markets which had indeed been climbing steadily suddenly took a downward turn. To some extent, it was a function of how quickly the economy had been growing. Investors suddenly grew worried that such rapid growth might prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, cooling things off. At the end of January and into February that year, there was a sell-off.
Within a week and a half, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 were both in correction territory, as the phrasing goes, meaning that they were at least 10 percentage points lower than recent highs. Both indexes recovered a bit, only to fall again. A bit over a month after the fall began, the Dow was 11.6 percent off its peak. It took both indexes months to recover what had been lost.
What was Trumps response to that initial, sharp sell-off? It was because he was doing too good a job as president. The news was too good.
In the old days, when good news was reported, the Stock Market would go up. Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake, and we have so much good (great) news about the economy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2018
This was a neat little bit of spin that, happily for Trump, wasnt entirely without basis.
A few months later, the Dow and the S&P began even bigger slides. Starting in late September, each index lost about a fifth of its value over the course of two months.
What happened? According to financial journalists, there were a number of factors at play, including concerns about the global economy and rising volatility. One factor was also the uncertainty of the upcoming midterm elections which, of course, was what Trump decided to focus on.
The Stock Market is up massively since the Election, but is now taking a little pause – people want to see what happens with the Midterms. If you want your Stocks to go down, I strongly suggest voting Democrat. They like the Venezuela financial model, High Taxes & Open Borders!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2018
Hes repeatedly suggested that allowing Democratic leadership at any level would put the economy at risk, claiming, for example, that had he not won election in 2016 the economy would have perhaps entered a depression. But its clear that the midterm uncertainty wasnt the primary driver of the drop, given that the indexes continued to decline for weeks after the election.
Since Trump is so heavily invested in the success of the markets mostly metaphorically speaking, since he sold stock he held upon becoming president hes put a heavy focus on how markets are faring in light of the recent threat that coronavirus will sweep across the country. A surge in new cases reported over the weekend prompted a sell-off in the Dow and S&P thats lasted all week. As of writing, both indexes had entered correction territory, down at least 10 percent since recent highs. That might change by the time markets close Thursday, but its clear that the markets have had a rough week.
Trump was asked about the market decline during his briefing on the coronavirus Wednesday evening. Why were markets dropping? Coronavirus, he said and because of Democratic candidates for president whod engaged in a debate Tuesday night.
I think it took a hit maybe for two reasons, Trump said. I think they look at the people that you watched debating last night and they say, if theres even a possibility that can happen, I think it really takes a hit because of that. And it certainly took a hit because of this, and I understand that also, because of supply chains and various other things and people coming in.
Asked a bit later whether the markets were overreacting to the virus, Trump isolated his political opponents as the problem.
I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves, he said. And they say, If we ever have a president like this and theres always a possibility. Its an election. You know, who knows what happens, right? I think were going to win. I think were going to win by a lot.
When they look at the statements made by the people standing standing behind those podiums, I think that has a huge effect, he added.
Its a bit odd that Trump didnt simply acknowledge that coronavirus was a primary driver for the drop. After all, the plunge began before the debate, and there was nothing particularly earth-shattering in the Democratic primary fight which would have spurred the sell-off weve seen this week. The problem for Trump, though, is that the countrys response to coronavirus and public confidence in that response is a direct reflection of his leadership. A market drop suggests a lack of confidence in how a pandemic would be handled which is indirectly an expression of low confidence in Trumps administration. Ergo, the problem is largely the Democratic opposition.
At another point in the briefing, Trump suggested that the virus might negatively affect growth in the gross domestic product, a measure that hasnt yet hit the levels Trump promised when he was a candidate. He had a reason for that, too: Lower-than-expected GDP growth was a function of the problems affecting Boeing, which he said knocked perhaps as much as 1 percent off of the growth of the economy overall. Thats about twice the effect that experts estimated but the good news for Trump was that he could point elsewhere for a cause.
As weve noted before, the markets play for Trump the role that polling did in the Republican primary in 2016. Then, Trump regularly hyped polling showing him in the lead. It was a constant, immediate set of numbers which he could elevate as evidence of his dominance. For much of his presidency, growth in the stock markets played a similar role. Every day, a new high and an accompanying tweet.
New Stock Market RECORD. Congratulations, spend your money wisely. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!!!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2020
When things head downward? Time to find a non-Trump cause. Democrats debating, perhaps.
Trump had another thought to offer about the markets during that coronavirus briefing.
I think after I win the election, I think the stock market is going to boom like its never boomed before, he said, just like it did, by the way, after I won the last election.