It’s not the economy, stupid!

In 1992, the Bill Clinton presidential campaign reputedly had a sign in its Little Rock headquarters reminding campaign workers to stay on message.  That sign said: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Many have taken that to mean that the economy remained the important issue to most American voters that it always had been in the past.  In part, the idea that Americans care most about the economy was the reason for nominating Mitt Romney in 2012.  As we all know, that did not work out for the Republicans.  Possibly it did not work out because the economy as an issue works differently for Republican presidential candidates from how it works for Democrat presidential candidates.

A bad economy can be an issue that a Democrat presidential candidate can use to attract some otherwise GOP-leaning voters to his candidacy.  Blue-collar voters who may be socially conservative with a tendency to vote GOP may turn to a Democratic candidate when the GOP is the incumbent party and the economy is weak.  So to a Democratic presidential candidate, a weak economy can be a wedge issue to get some swing or GOP voters to come to his side.

As opposed to the past, a weak economy may not be an issue that cuts across party lines.  Even if, like this year or even four years ago, the economy is in an anemic recovery, the economy may not directly be as good an issue for a Republican to attract Democrat-leaning voters to the Republican’s candidacy.  A higher percentage of Democratic-leaning voters are less directly affected by the economy than Republican-leaning voters because Democratic-leaning voters are more likely government workers or out of the labor force and do not depend as directly on the state of the economy.

So while the economic wedge issue works for a Democratic presidential candidate when the GOP is the incumbent party and the economy is weak, it is less likely to work for a Republican presidential candidate when the Democrats are in.  A Republican presidential candidate might well hang a sign that says, “It’s the benefits, stupid!”

Mitt Romney four years ago might have been well served by such a sign.  It might have served to remind him to keep hammering hard on President Obama’s $700-billion cut in Medicare.  Democratic spin doctors like Howard Dean claimed that no one would believe that the Democrats cut Medicare by that huge amount after Romney mentioned that cut in a debate.  Had Romney stayed focused on that issue, he might have attracted some Democratic-leaning voters he could not reach with an appeal on the anemic recovery of the economy.

Donald Trump also might do well to post an “It’s the benefits, stupid!” sign.  As he seeks votes from black Americans and other Democratic-leaning voters, he might point out the Democratic record and ask those voters if they worry that their benefits might be on the line.  Certainly, the Trump campaign is appealing to Democratic-leaning blue-collar voters including black Americans by pointing out that the Democrats seemingly now are willing to favor even illegal Hispanics at the expense of blue-collar black Americans and other blue-collar voters.  This really is what the illegal immigration issue is all about.

A better economy also means the people of the country can do more for the disadvantaged.  Historically, Americans increase the help they give to those in need when the economy grows.  Too often, Republicans are associated only with trying to stop those not in need from exploiting the social safety net.

So "It’s the economy, stupid" is a reminder for Republican presidential candidates to stay focused on what is important to many Republican-leaning voters.  “It’s the benefits, stupid” can be a reminder for current and future Republican presidential candidates to remain on the offensive and try to attract voters away from the Democrats.

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