Trump sticks with positive messaging as coronavirus misery piles up

Economists largely do not share the president’s rosy view, nor his assurances that the third and fourth quarters of 2020 will automatically transition into an economic rebound.

“I remember working in the White House in 2009 and feeling the world was ending when we lost roughly 700,000 job a month,” said Jesse Rothstein, a former senior economist in the Obama administration who is now a professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “Now, we lost 20 million jobs in one month. There is just no comparison.”

For Trump, the pivot to the economy is a messaging play for his White House legacy and his re-election campaign. If he can cast himself as the wartime president who resurrected the economy from a pandemic, that is a far better political narrative than the one the Democrats are pushing: that Trump underplayed the virus’s threat and oversaw an ad hoc and ill-fated response effort.

The president and the White House are looking for ways to boost economic growth by urging Americans to return to work, as well as considering tax cuts for the next relief package — bound to please Wall Street and goose the stock market, which Trump views as its own form of polling.

Many Republicans close to the White House privately believe the markets will rebound long before the employment numbers do. One Republican close to the administration said the White House is “in denial” about the true scale of the carnage to the jobs market, according to interviews with six senior administration officials and close White House advisers.

Publicly, White House officials are keeping up Trump’s optimistic message of a recovery in the last two quarters of the year, even if it seems unlikely that Americans will want to fully participate in large-scale events like concerts or sports games, or attend celebrations, dine out or even travel.

“We understand why the economy is slowing down. And we expect that we can reverse it,” senior adviser Kevin Hassett said on Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Whereas in the Depression, there were a lot of other things, a lot of policy errors and so on, that made the whole thing drag out.” Also on Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned that the unemployment rate could go as high as 25 percent.