Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

By Ben Geier and Tory Newmyer
May 6, 2016

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

The early handicapping of the coming Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton showdown has focused on the map. For Trump to have a chance of winning in November, he’ll need to hold reliably Republican states and then over-perform across a swath of Rust Belt targets that lately tip Democratic: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Even then, to get over the top, he’d need to pick up, say, Colorado and Virginia — no small task.

Trump likely can’t get there on his own. Considering the intensity of the opposition to his candidacy among key voting groups, it would help if circumstances outside the campaign broke his way. A significant economic downturn, for example, might convince voters that the country needs a radical break from Obama-era policies. And the more cataclysmic, the better for Trump, assuming such a rupture would fan the flames of discontent already animating his core supporters. But despite Friday’s decidedly middling jobs report, there’s no sign a major disruption is brewing. Instead, the economy looks primed to putter along for the rest of the year with growth between 1.5 and 2.5 percent. Perhaps more importantly, wages have risen 2.5 percent over the last 12 months, suggesting more workers may finally be feeling the recovery they’ve only been hearing about for years.

History nevertheless suggests Clinton faces headwinds in this general election. Since World War II, six non-incumbents have tried to replace a president of the same party. Only George H.W. Bush in 1988 succeeded. All three Democrats who tried — Adlai Stevenson in 1952, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and Al Gore in 2000 — ran on improving economies, with unemployment rates that had each dropped about 1.5 percent over the previous four years. At least on paper, Clinton is running on a stronger record: The jobless rate has dropped 2.7 percent in Obama’s second term. But a better reason to believe Clinton will prove the exception is her exceptional opponent.

Trump didn’t squeeze any positive coverage out of his historic victory in the Republican primary this week. So maybe he was trying to make his own luck Thursday when he said the U.S. should save money by shorting our creditors and effectively defaulting on our debt. If investors took that threat seriously, he might just precipitate the economic crisis he needs to win. The map and the underlying strength of the recovery predict he’ll have a hard time otherwise.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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