Democrats struggling for pocketbook message as roaring economy helps Trump

The economy is on fire right now, and that, more than anything, could be a major boost to President Trump's reelection chances.

And the Democrats are having a hard time figuring out how to run against this steamroller at a time of 4 percent unemployment and soaring stocks.

Of course, things could cool off before the election, as many economists predict a sharp slowdown in growth over the next two years.

But for now, the S&P and the Nasdaq just hit all-time highs, and the newly announced rebound in first-quarter growth, to 3.2 percent, trounced the market's all-important expectations.

I've always felt that a president presiding over strong growth is far more likely to win a second term, even if other hot-button issues are dominating the news. The flip side is that strong economic anxieties can derail a reelection campaign, even if the economy is recovering from a recession, as happened when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. And the Wall Street meltdown in the fall of 2008 helped put Barack Obama in the White House.

The nettlesome challenge for the Democratic candidates is to avoid appearing that they're talking down a good economy or getting traction when most people are satisfied with their personal situation. During the 1982 midterms, Democrats privately hoped the jobless rate under Ronald Reagan would top 10 percent, which it did, but couldn't say so publicly on their way to picking up 27 House seats.

Joe Biden is touted for his ability to connect with white, working-class voters in such industrial states as Michigan and Pennsylvania. But if those workers, except in certain fields, are generally doing well, that clearly undercuts the pitch.

But don't take my word for it — ask Celinda Lake.

She's a veteran Democratic pollster who told Politico that "we really don't have a robust national message right now" on the economy. "We will tend to talk about things like paid leave and equal pay," which are popular but "don't add up to an economic message that is robust enough to win the presidency."

Lake also said that people may not agree with Trump, but they know what his message is. "And Democrats, you don't know what it is. And that's a recipe for disaster in 2020."

Look, many things will be at play in this election: Immigration. Health care. The Mueller report. Terrorism. Race relations. And Trump is underwater with key groups and has a 54 percent disapproval rating in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll.

And even on the economic front, not everything is Rosy Scenario. By the administration's own projections, we're looking at federal deficits over $1 trillion for the next four years. That's what you get when you combine only modest spending restraint with tax cuts, which many Americans feel didn't help them.

As the Politico piece notes, some Democratic candidates are taking broad swipes at the Trump economy, particularly on the subject of inequality.

Kamala Harris: "We have an economy in this country that is not working for working people."

Elizabeth Warren: "Let's make the zillionaires pay a fair share."


Beto O'Rourke would undo the "worst excesses" of the GOP tax cuts.

One of the reasons that no economic message is breaking through is that there are 20 Democratic candidates, each vying for a share of the spotlight. That would matter less in hard times, but the Democrats don't have that luxury.

If "it's the economy, stupid" is as true today as when James Carville coined it a quarter-century ago, beating Trump will be harder than many Democrats think.