What a recession might do to the election

First up today, the so-called “crazy inverted yield curve.” No, I’m not gonna go all Economics 101 here, but it’s worth getting into this looming narrative around a recession and what that might do politically. There are many signs that a recession is coming. In a sense, a recession is ALWAYS coming, the questions are just how bad it will be and when it will occur.

As more indicators of that impending recession start to pop up, politicians are looking at a recession in political terms, meaning, would a recession benefit or hurt the sitting president? In general, at least historically, it tends to hurt. Reading here from Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic:

“…[A]bout half (or even slightly more) of voters express support for Trump’s management of the economy, but only 40 to 45 percent of them give him positive marks on his overall performance. That difference could be the tipping point between a coalition that places Trump close to the comfort zone for presidents seeking reelection—support from about half of Americans—and one that leaves him trying to secure a second term with positive marks from a much smaller circle. The only presidents since 1952 who sought reelection with approval ratings below 50 percent—Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush—all lost.”

In other words, if either the economy DOES decline, or voters’ perceptions of it decline, then that’s probably trouble for the president. Right now, a sustained healthy economy has clearly helped him, as that quote just suggested. So, okay, that’s one thing. But what might this do to the field of primary candidates on the Democratic side? Well, for that, let’s listen to Amy Walter, writing for The Cook Political Report:

“If 2020 is consumed with talk of a possible recession, the candidate who voters feel is best suited to address it will have the upper hand. In many ways, Warren is well positioned for that moment. She has made the economy — specifically a critique of the current economic structure in this country — the centerpiece of her campaign and her career. She conducted groundbreaking work on personal bankruptcy. During the financial crisis, she was appointed Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Not long after the markets closed on Thursday, Warren tweeted: "The warning signs for another recession are flashing. We need to pay attention and act now, while we still have time to avert a downturn."
Biden, of course, can point to his tenure as Vice President during the financial crisis. In 2012, Biden was fond of telling voters that he and Obama should be re-elected because “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.””

Walter suggested that if a recession happens, Democratic candidates who have less experience—or less perceived experience—managing the economy are likely to suffer. She cites an unnamed Democratic strategist who said that Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Bernie Sanders might suffer. I’ll keep you posted as this narrative evolves.

Another Republican primary challenger is thinking about a run

Next up, yesterday on Meet the Press, former South Carolina Governor and Representative Mark Sanford announced that he might announce a primary challenge to the sitting president. He would join a very slim field at the moment, with really only former Governor Bill Weld as another opponent to Trump.

In an interview with Chuck Todd, Sanford said that discussions around a primary challenge to Trump began the day he lost the primary for his 2018 re-election to the House. The reason he lost it is that Sanford had been critical of Trump, so Trump endorsed his primary opponent, who then narrowly lost in the general election.

Oddly, Sanford says the ultimate decision to run is up to his four sons. He says that if they tell to go for it, he will. And he will make that decision by Labor Day. Currently the voting among his sons is mixed.

Okay, so who is Mark Sanford? Well, he served in the US House from 1995 through 2001, then served as Governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011, then went back to the House for 2013 through 2019. There were some rumblings in 2008 that he might be Senator John McCain’s running mate, though obviously that didn’t pan out. He is fiscally conservative, and most of his campaigns have revolved around dealing with government spending and debt. Let’s listen to a clip from his longer interview on Meet the Press—there’s a full video in the show notes. Listen in, and Todd speaks first:


There are a few things in that clip we need to dig into just a bit. First, you hear Sanford saying he doesn’t even think he is the best man for the job. But he’s been talking about this possible primary challenge for months, so I think the odds of him actually announcing are pretty high—I don’t think he has anything to gain by going on talk shows and saying this stuff if he doesn’t intend to run. He has also said that if he fails in that run, he would go back to the business world. Okay, so that’s the first thing—that he openly says he’s not the best candidate. Weird, but okay, points for honesty, I guess.

Second, Todd mentions “personal foibles.” That’s a reference to a scandal from 2009. Sanford went missing in June that year—he was Governor at the time, but his location was unknown to his wife, family, and staff, AND to the state police force that was supposed to be protecting him. This went on for SIX DAYS, and I remember this as a big, weird national news story—like, literally, where did the Governor of South Carolina go? The common theory was that he’d gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail, because he had mentioned that possibility to some of his staff beforehand. But nobody on the trail had seen him. Long story short, he was actually in Argentina conducting an extramarital affair. Yeah. And when he got back to the States, he held a press conference and admitted it. He did not resign, but lost his leadership position as the head of the Republican Governors Association. He later successfully ran for the House again.

The last thing is that even though Sanford is critical of Trump, he votes with Trump very often on substantive issues while in the House, and is on the record as saying if Trump is the nominee he will vote for him. So while Sanford is right that, “You can compete on ideas,” his candidacy at this points looks, at best, like a mild protest.

An update on how King is doing in Iowa

Last week I talked about Representative Steve King and his appalling comments about sexual violence as a driver of population growth. That was, as we discussed, during a campaign event. So, how’s he doing now? Well, in an event Saturday morning in Grundy County, Iowa, King gave a town hall to an audience of one. Literally, one. Technically there was a second person sitting in the room, but that was King’s intern, who was paid to be there.

The one person who showed up was Jessica Birch, a student at the University of Northern Iowa. Reading here from an article in Starting Line by Pat Rynard:

“She arrived to [a] peculiar scene: out of the over 12,000 people that live in Grundy County, Birch was the only one to show up to King’s forum.
“It was just odd, because I don’t know what the record was for the world’s smallest town hall is, but one person I think has to be it,” Birch told Starting Line in an interview this morning.”

The article is linked in the show notes, as always, and it’s an interesting read in particular because of how Birch sees her civic responsibility in this election. At various points in the article, she expresses frustration at being the only person who bothered to show up to actually listen to King and talk to him about what matters to her.

And by the way, she’s a Democrat! She opposes this candidate, but, you know, when somebody comes to a town hall in your area, you go. That’s part of how you engage in the political process. One more quote from the story, and this is a direct statement from Birch:

“As a young Democrat who’s trying her best, please don’t dismiss us all. Some of us care. Some of us show up.”

So let’s hear it for showing up. I mean, really, a lot of politics on the internet is loud and brash and heavily disconnected from the reality of going to speak in person with a candidate on a Saturday morning. BECAUSE we’re still in the primary season, this is a real opportunity that we have right now. We can go see and speak with our potential representatives. And kudos to Birch for doing that.

One kicker on the story is that at end of the event, although Birch had been civil throughout, she declined to be photographed with King. When the newspaper asked her why, Birch said that she intends someday to run for public office, and does not want a photo of herself shaking hands with King to exist.

Booker preaches in Atlanta

Last Friday and Saturday, five Democratic primary candidates participated at the Black Church Presidential Candidate Conversation Series held in Atlanta. Featured speakers were Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Sanders, and Warren. Sponsored by the Black Church PAC, it was a specifically Christian event and focused on black Millennial voters. I watched a few clips from the event, and this one jumped out at me. It’s Booker, speaking to an audience that’s on their feet. Listen in:


Yeah, those were his OPENING REMARKS before they got into Q&A. It is fair to say that Booker was connecting there in a way that I just didn’t see from the other candidates—or at least, not in the clips that they posted. I also want to offer some context to a few of the Biblical things going on there so you know what’s he’s talking about in the context of this audience. I know not everybody studied this stuff, and I’m not an expert either, but here’s a little context to fill it in.

First, Booker cites Philippians 4:13. The full verse there is, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It comes in the context of the Apostle Paul essentially saying, he knows that life has its ups and downs, and he has accepted that, and through his faith, he carries on.

Okay, the other verse that Booker uses as a call-and-response is James 2:26, which reads,  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” The meaning there, while there is definitely a BUNCH of real context and scholarship, is basically, it’s okay to have faith alone, but it’s preferable to get off your butt and do something about it.

And the final thing here is to give context to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. quote. The full context of that is, again, instructive, and I want to read some of it here.

“The hour has come for everybody, for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism. And now if we are to do it we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation.
One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And there are those who often sincerely say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, "Why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. And if you will just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out."
There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used wither constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time."

That was March 31st, 1968.

Well, that is all for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Okay, the show is running long today so I’m keeping this end part short. I’m digging into the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 feature—it’s super-long, so that might take me a week. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the last link in the show notes, and it is a vital long-read for Americans. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.