Economists and analysts overwhelmingly agreed this week that a recession is, if not looming, appearing to be much more likely in the near future than it was before.
But in President Donald Trump’s White House, such pessimism is verboten. According to multiple reports, Trump’s team has been emphasizing rosier economic numbers and brushing off signs of a coming downturn. Trump even suggested that he “suspects many economists and other forecasters are presenting biased data to thwart his reelection,” according to the Washington Post. (Trump previously complained that positive economic reports under President Barack Obama were fake.)
Despite this hesitance to accept reality, Trump also fears the warnings might be correct. The Post reported:
…the president has sounded anxious and apprehensive. From his golf club in New Jersey, where he is vacationing this week, Trump has called a number of business leaders and financial executives to sound them out — and they have provided him a decidedly mixed analysis, according to two people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were confidential.
“He’s rattled,” [one] Republican said. “He thinks that all the people that do this economic forecasting are a bunch of establishment weenies — elites who don’t know anything about the real economy and they’re against Trump.”
The Associated Press confirmed this report, finding: “Trump is growing increasingly worried the economy won’t look so good come Election Day.”
But most worrying of all is that the White House seems utterly unprepared if a recession does hit. The Republican Party has already expended much political capital on a deficit-busting tax cut and spending increases, and any effort to stimulate the economy through fiscal policy would likely spur fissures among the GOP’s rank and file. Trump’s main plan to stave off economic pain thus far appears to be berating Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.
And, as CNBC John Harwood argued Friday, the tax cut’s promised economic benefits appear to be illusory.
The Post also noted:
Administration officials are not actively planning for a recession because they do not believe one will occur, and they worry that making such plans would validate a negative narrative about the economy and precipitate a crash, according to people involved in internal discussions.
Despite the focus on Trump’s own contributions to the potential recession — his pointless trade war with China, his belligerence toward other world leaders, his empty economic policies — much of it likely remains out of his control. European countries like Germany and the United Kingdom might be headed for recession no matter what Trump does. China’s own downturn has been expected for a long time now, and it could be on track for a market correction regardless of Trump’s attempted economic sabotage.
But as the Post’s Catherine Rampell argued, Trump is particularly badly positioned to deal with a recession, whatever its cause. That’s because he’s surrounded himself with cranks and cronies.
She wrote a recent piece disparaging his economic aides and appointees titled: “Trump has a dream team for mismanaging a recession.”
“Trump’s economic brain trust consists of a guy who plays an economist on TV, a crank who has been disowned by the (real) economics profession and the producer of ‘The Lego Batman Movie,‘” she wrote Thursday. “Trump — like the rest of us — had better hope and pray that we don’t have a recession anytime soon. Because if we do, it’s gonna be bad.”