Is Trump's Strength on the Economy Actually a Weakness?

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a listening session with CEOs of small and community banks at the White House, Washington, D.C., March 9. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday he plans to hold public hearings on possible links between Trump's campaign and Russia. Carlos Barria/REUTERS

One of President Donald Trump's consistent strengths in overall dismal polling numbers is how Americans rate him on the economy. He's assiduously cultivated his image as a jobs creator, claiming credit for the rise in the stock markets, U.S. companies' expansion plans (even though, in most of the cases, those plans predated his election) and, on Friday, the positive jobs report from the Department of Labor. One Democratic super PAC, however, says the president's stance on the economy is exactly what his opposition should target.

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Priorities USA, one of the left's most influential super PACs, released a memo Friday outlining its thinking, based on regular polling the group has commissioned from Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang. The latest poll, conducted March 3 through March 7, finds that 42 percent of American voters view the president's performance on the economy favorably thus far, compared with 32 percent who have an unfavorable view. It's the only policy area where Trump enjoys a net positive rating—on immigration, health care, foreign policy and Russia relations, more people view him unfavorably than favorably. That's consistent with a March 7 Quinnipiac University poll that found 49 percent of voters approved of Trump's handling of the economy, while 41 percent did not. Again, it was the only policy area where Trump wasn't "underwater," i.e., at a net negative.

Still, the liberal super PAC, which spent nearly $200 million on the 2016 election supporting Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates, asserts that Trump "has a clear vulnerability on the economy." Namely: "Voters believe he looks out for the interests of the wealthy and corporations." Among the criticisms of Trump that the pollsters tested, the one that drives the biggest reaction, Priorities USA says, is the claim that the president "supports giving a big tax cut to millionaires and big corporations, and will shift more of the tax burden to the middle class." In its memo, the super PAC counsels progressives to "prioritize connecting the dots between Trump's economic policies and the impact they have on regular people."

Democrats already seem to be pursuing that strategy. Progressive advocacy groups have been going after Trump and his cabinet for alleged conflicts of interest, ties to Wall Street and general favoritism of the wealthy and powerful—perceived to be exactly the opposite of the "drain the swamp" pledge Trump campaigned on. And since Republicans in Congress on Monday unveiled their proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare, Democrats have been relentlessly attacking it as a tax cut for the rich that will drive up the cost of health insurance for the poor, sick and elderly.

The political battle over the Obamacare repeal is likely to consume much of the spring, giving Democrats plenty of opportunities to hammer home that point. And Republicans have signaled they will follow up the health care effort with an ambitious plan to overhaul the tax code, which could also feed into the progressive narrative of Trump giveaways to the rich. Democrats, in other words, will have openings to attack Trump on the economy. The question is whether continued job growth and a brightening of the general economic outlook will drown out their efforts to play up a class war.