The key economic question Republican candidates refuse to answer

    On Tuesday night, the debate moderators asked a lot of lickspittle questions — just the way Republican candidates like ’em — but Rupert Murdoch’s man at The Wall Street Journal did manage to pose what is arguably the most crucial question of the campaign. An economic question that Republicans haven’t figured out how to answer.

    It was directed to Carly Fiorina, and it went like this: “In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?”

    Those stats are accurate. In fact, moderator Gerard Baker could’ve gone further. Princeton economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, in a ’14 report for the National Bureau of Economic Research, crunched all the numbers since World War II and reached this conclusion, mincing no words:  “The U.S. economy not only grows faster, according to real GDP and other measures, during Democratic versus Republican presidencies, it also produces more jobs, lowers the unemployment rate, generates higher corporate profits and investment, and turns in higher stock market returns. Indeed, it outperforms under almost all standard macroeconomic metrics.”

    But the question was limited to the gap in job stats. Let’s check out Fiorina’s response, which I will annotate.

    Well, first of all, I must say as I think about that question, I think about a woman I met the other day. I would guess she was 40 years old. She had several children. And she said to me, you know, Carly, I go to bed every night afraid for my children’s future. And that really struck me. This is America. A mother is going to bed afraid for her children’s future.

    Note how she dodges the question right away. When a politician begins by conjuring the perfect voter anecdote, you know that he or she is in trouble.

    And the reason she’s afraid for her children’s future is because we’ve had problems for a long time. Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats. But the truth is, this government has been growing bigger and bigger, more corrupt, less effective, crushing the engine of economic growth for a very long time. This isn’t about just replacing a Democrat with a Republican now. It’s about actually challenging the status quo of big government.

    Notice how she answered a question that hadn’t been asked. Murdoch’s man, Gerard Baker, had asked her to comment on the fact that job creation was far stronger under Clinton and Obama than under Bush. But she replies, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats.” We’re still waiting for her to address Baker’s question.

    Big government has created a big business called politics. And there are lots of people invested in the status quo of that big business called politics. Specifically, we need actually to do five things to really get this economy going again. We need to go to zero-based budgeting so we know where every dollar is being spent, we can challenge any dollar, cut any dollar, move any dollar. [APPLAUSE] We need to actually reform the tax code. Go to a three-page tax code. Yes, there are plans that would reform our tax code to three pages. In addition to rolling back what President Obama has done, we need to do a top-to-bottom review of every single regulation on the books. That hasn’t been done in 50 years. We need to pass the REINS Act so Congress is in charge of regulation, not nameless, faceless bureaucrats accountable to no one. We’ve become a nation of rules, not a nation of laws. And finally we actually, yes, have to hold government officials accountable for their performance. All this has to be done, and the citizens of this nation must help a President Fiorina get it done. We must take our government back.

    “Status quo” “nameless faceless bureaucrats” “take our government back” … She filibustered with her standard talking points, and, all told, she never came within 100 miles of answering the question.

    Because the only honest way to answer it is to admit the truth. The stats under Democratic presidents speak for themselves. Maybe it’s just 100 percent coincidence that the economy performs best when Democrats occupy the White House — economists Blinder and Watson refrain from concluding that Dem prexies are miracle workers — but the Republicans claim that Democrats screw up the economy with all their taxing and spending and regulating. And there’s no empirical evidence for that claim.

    Which brings us to another comical moment. On Tuesday, moderator Maria Bartiromo posed this question to Jeb Bush: “You’ve said your policies will drive the economy back to 4 percent growth, which we haven’t seen since the year 2000. What specific regulations would you change? And how will that lead to jobs and growth?”

    Note the unspoken subtext of that question. The last time we had four percent growth was in 2000 — under Democrat Bill Clinton. We never had four percent growth under Jeb’s brother. Anyway, here’s the gist of Jeb’s reply:

    First of all, we could get to 4 percent growth. The new normal of 2 percent puts huge demands on government. The reason why we have structural deficits is that more and more people are relying on government and the growth that we don’t have makes — makes the deficit grow …. On the regulatory side, I think we need to repeal every rule that Barack Obama has in terms of work in progress, every one of them. [APPLAUSE]

    Apparently Jeb and his partisan applauders didn’t spot the fatal flaw in his thinking. If Obama’s regulatory rules are so burdensome on the economy, how come the jobless rate has plummeted to five percent during Obama’s his tenure — one point lower than what Mitt Romney promised to achieve, with low-regulation, free-market policies, by the end of 2016? And since Jeb’s brother was a low-regulation guy who enacted massive tax cuts, how come job creation was so tepid during the W years — climaxed by the worst economy since the Great Depression … leaving Obama the task of mopping up the slop?

    Republicans will face many obstacles in the ’16 White House race — not the least of which is their demographic deficit — but perhaps their biggest challenge is economic. Yes, there’s terrible income inequality (as has been the case for 40 years under both parties), and, yes, the rebound from W’s disaster could’ve been faster (especially if congressional Republicans had cooperated), but the out party’s candidate has a high hurdle when the jobless rate is low and the forecast is broadly bullish.

    And when Hillary Clinton points out, in autumn ’16, that the economy has typically performed better under Democratc presidents (because the numbers don’t lie), her Republican foe will need to cook up something far better than Fiorina’s filibuster salad.

    The debate came up for discussion this morning on WHYY’s “Radio Times.” The main topic was candidate lying and media fact-checking. It’s archived here.

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