The great fear of any president running for reelection is being found naked in bed with a dead economy — or, to be less extreme, trying to convince the voters to give him another four years when we’re in a recession. Things are looking pretty good for President Trump, then, as all the signs show that the lockdown and the coronavirus-induced recession are going to be over by the time voters start making their ballots.
The fear of running for reelection when the economy is dire is well founded. That’s what did in Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. President Gerald Ford wasn’t exactly running in the happy times, nor was President Lyndon B. Johnson when he decided not to run. President Herbert Hoover would be a prime example too. It’s important to note, though, that what matters is not whether there has been a recession, but is there one when people are voting? It’s actively feeling the slowdown that changes votes, not that things could be better. What happened before is much less important than the growth and improvement people feel now.
This is why an 18% jump in retail sales is a good sign for Trump. Sure, we know, we’re still in a terrible economic slump. It’s one of the fastest and deepest falls in economic output ever, certainly since reliable records started to be kept a century or so back. If we judged and voted purely on economic record, this would be depressing for those who lean toward Trump in November, even if it’s not actually anyone’s fault. But as best we know, that’s not quite the way it does work — it’s how people feel the economy is on Election Day that does. Growth is growth, even if there’s been a slump.
Thus, the big question is: How long is this all going to last? Will the recession be V-shaped (we’ll be back to where we were right away) or W-shaped (some bumbling around and then back to where we were) or L-shaped (we’re screwed)?
All the numbers that we’re getting out of the economy point to a V-shaped recovery. Yep, it’s terrible now, but it’ll soon be growing again and fast.