Personally, I don’t put an overabundance of stock in the political prognostications of what will happen in November when they are being made in mid-May. To say that a lot can’t happen between now and then ignores the fact that there is more time between now and then there was between now and when the coronavirus public health crisis began in earnest here in the United States. A lot can change in just a couple months.
Still, to pretend that what is happening now can’t and won’t affect the political narrative that underlies the upcoming campaign battles is equally foolish. Specifically, the staggering unemployment rate. Certainly seeing the nation’s jobless rate hovering around a staggering 15% in May of an election year would ordinarily be the death knell of any past presidency.
But multiple factors are at play in this situation that make any historic comparisons completely invalid and pointless, not the least of which is the expectation that many of these unemployed Americans are only temporarily unemployed, or furloughed, until the crisis has passed. If true, that would make all comparisons to the Great Depression era somewhat silly – this doesn’t feel like we’re on the cusp of something so devastatingly tragic. Yet, anyway.
I would contend then, that the fate of Trump’s re-election hopes hinges on what happens to that group more than anything else. The Washington Examiner recently reported:
The vast majority of job losers in April, 18 million of 20.6 million, according to the household survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are on temporary layoff.
The question is whether those hopeful workers are right, and they will be able to go back to their old jobs. If they are, the recession will be relatively short and the recovery very quick. If not, the country faces a disaster.
“One concern is about these temporary layoffs turning into more permanent layoffs,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director for the job site Indeed. “If we can get the public health response right … that means the return to work for workers would be easier.”
“It’s the sort of thing that’s good news if we think there can be a quick enough return to economic growth in increased hiring from employers if we can keep those relationships between these temporary layoff workers and their employers, so they could be recalled fairly quickly,” Bunker told the Washington Examiner.
Clearly that’s what the president and his team of advisors, like the White House’s top economic mind Larry Kudlow, are counting on. Not just in a hopeful sense; they truly believe that to be the case. Kudlow explained in a recent interview that unlike recessions caused by economic factors, which must be ridden out along the rhythmic flow of the expansion/contraction market cycle, this one is all predicated around a temporary virus cycle.
The strength of the American economy at the time it hit may prove critically important as well. Had we been experiencing market contraction at the time of the shutdown, job losses and economic turmoil could have been far worse, and thus, more long-lasting. From Kudlow’s seat, the virus cycle should wrap up in the next month, and when it does, employees return to work, and a pent-up American demand will stimulate a precipitous economic surge.
If they’re right, expect Trump’s re-election to be all but assured. If they’re wrong, things could get very interesting politically speaking between now and November.
It’s interesting from a political scientist viewpoint. Usually about this time in an election year, people start talking about the notorious October surprise that can sink or send candidates to failure or victory. For my money, I think this time around it’ll be the June or July surprise that writes the script.