Trump’s Knockout Punch Opportunity

Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

In the first of the three presidential debates, only Trump’s handlers scored his performance as better than a draw. Both candidates jabbed and scored some points against the other. Pity that Trump did not launch a haymaker against Hillary’s big glass jaw on the economy.

Last May, The New York Times reported:

Hillary Clinton already has an assignment for her husband, Bill Clinton, if they return to the White House next year. The former president, Mrs. Clinton told voters on Sunday, will be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” “Because, you know, he knows how to do it,” she said.

Less well reported was the progressives’ fury kindled by this. The neoliberal Bill Clinton, who, mostly embellishing on the Reagan/Kemp Supply-Side legacy under pressure from a newly Republican Congress, cut the capital gains tax; mended, rather than ended, a disgraceful welfare regime; and materially advanced free trade.

Massive job growth ensued. After an initial two years of soggy economic growth, America generated over 20 million new jobs under Clinton, putting, among other things, the federal budget into surplus. This, however, did not endear Clinton to the dogmatic progressive left.

The followers of Bernie Sanders, with whom Hillary Clinton then was locked in mortal primary combat (and whose election day turnout she now needs), were outraged. Clinton immediately backpedaled and adopted huge swaths of the Sanders economic platform.

This made her vulnerable in the general election. Candidate Clinton’s initially embracing and then distancing herself from President Clinton’s economic policy success represents a dangerous flip flop. She repudiated the formula for economic growth and job creation.

As I wrote recently at Forbes.com, a column entitled “What JFK And The Reagan Revolution Reveal About Trump,” reviewing Lawrence Kudlow’s and Brian Domitrovic’s excellent new book: JFK and the Reagan Revolution: A Secret History of American Prosperity:

We forget JFK’s decisive pivot toward big marginal tax rate cuts while defending the dollar as defined by a fixed weight of gold. We only dimly remember the rip-roaring job creation that promptly followed the enactment of Kennedy’s tax rate cut after his assassination.

[…]

Few remember that after the enactment of Reagan’s across-the-board marginal tax rate cuts (lowering the top rate from 70% to 50% and then, with overwhelming bipartisan support, to 28%), another prolonged period of massive job creation and economic growth ensued.

[…]

Clinton also cut the capital gains tax rate, embraced free trade, and mended a morally hazardous welfare system. He was rewarded by rip-roaring job creation and general prosperity. From those millions of new jobs came a federal budget surplus in place of deficits.

Hillary Clinton is promising to raise, not cut, tax rates. She is singing, in more muted voice, right out the Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist hymnal. Meanwhile, Trump is offering a policy mix right in the zone offered by JFK, Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Every time it was tried, it led to massive job creation.

That is a far more powerful, and credible, promise than stopping companies from fleeing America’s oppressive tax, regulatory, and monetary climate or expelling undocumented workers. JFK/Reagan/Bill Clinton massive job growth would create, for instance, so many great new jobs that the resentment of illicit competitors for existing jobs would just evaporate.

The claim that lower tax rates, good (preferably gold) money, and a sane regulatory climate is rooted in history and would associate Trump (and, until she backpedaled, Clinton) with three very popular former presidents. That would be powerful, and Trump, as anything but an establishment Republican, is uniquely equipped to exploit this opportunity.

As I wrote:

Peter Drucker, the man who transformed management from craft to art, wrote in The Effective Executive:

Among the effective executives I have known and worked with, there are extroverts and aloof, retiring men, some even morbidly shy. Some are eccentrics, others painfully correct conformists. Some are fat and some are lean. Some are worriers, some are relaxed. Some drink quite heavily, others are total abstainers. Some are men of great charm and warmth, some have no more personality than a frozen mackerel. There are a few men among them who would answer to the popular conception of a “leader.” But equally there are colorless men who could attract no attention in a crowd.

Many harbor doubts about Trump, including some elite Republicans. That said, the right policy mix, not the personality, delivers the goods.

Rather than exhausting himself with jabs at Hillary Clinton’s errors and omissions during 30 years of public life, or wasting his energy responding to her jabs at his own foibles, Donald Trump is equipped to deliver a real haymaker.

Donald Trump is offering something very much like the same policy formula that worked for JFK, worked for Reagan, and worked for Bill Clinton to generate sizzling jobs growth.

Hillary Clinton, at first, declared she would do the same. And then, under political pressure, she flinched.

Let’s hope that Trump’s advisors will point out to him, as James Carville pointed out to Candidate Bill Clinton, that “It’s the economy, stupid.” If Donald Trump makes the case for the policies of economic growth, he could win the next debate by a knockout and, with it, the election.

Ralph Benko, internationally published weekly columnist, co-author of The 21st Century Gold Standard, lead co-editor of the Gerald Malsbary translation from Latin to English of Copernicus’s Essay on Money, is American Principles Project’s Senior Advisor, Economics.