Republicans fail to make case for change

Last week, the Republican candidates made clear that they cannot answer the fundamental question of the 2016 election: After enduring the policies that led to the economic collapse under President Bush, followed by the creation of 13 million jobs and 68 months of consecutive private-sector job growth under President Obama, why would voters ever trust the Republican Party with our economy again? 

We’re not the only ones who noticed they don’t have an answer.

Republican Candidates Have Trouble Making the Case for ChangeNEW YORK MAGAZINE // JONATHAN CHAIT

Early in the fourth Republican debate, Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker, one of the debate moderators, asked Carly Fiorina a question that cut at the heart of the rationale of every candidate onstage. Under Barack Obama, Baker noted, the United States has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under Bill Clinton, it added an average of 240,000, and under George W. Bush, just 13,000 jobs a month. Economic growth is the ultimate basis for the entire Republican economic program — the inducement they can offer to explain why Americans should give up things like cleaner air, a higher minimum wage, and more generous social programs.           

Fiorina’s reply had no point of contact with the question whatsoever. Indeed, she said, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats” — the exact opposite of what the question had stated — before launching into a generic denunciation of the evils of big government. The basic case for changing parties turned out to pose an obstacle that all the candidates had difficulty surmounting.


All the candidates prefer to live in a world in which big government is crushing the American dream, and all of them lack even moderately credible specifics with which to flesh out this harrowing portrait.

The GOP’s challenge: denying Obama’s economic gains

By every possible metric, Obama inherited an economic catastrophe from Bush’s brother and took effective steps to get the economy back on track. Dan Diamond had a good piece over the weekend noting that Republicans have an even tougher case to make now that the unemployment rate has dropped to 5%.

US Unemployment Rate 

I put together the above chart to show the unemployment rate over the last quarter-century, and the results probably aren’t what Republicans want to see. H.W. Bush saw unemployment climb nearly two percentage points during his tenure, while Bill Clinton saw the strongest jobs boom in modern American history. W. Bush inherited low unemployment, departed in the midst of a jobs crisis, and watched Obama turn things around.


The question these candidates might struggle with, though, is why slashing the unemployment rate in half is a disaster in need of a far-right “fix.”



Moreover—and more importantly for the politics of economic growth—the Republican candidates were silent on one of the key questions of the 2016 election. “The Democrats will inevitably ask you and voters to compare the recent presidents’ jobs performance,” said moderator Gerard Baker to Carly Fiorina. “In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs per month. Under Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 per month; under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you will 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?”

Fiorina dodged the question. She didn’t have an answer. And neither did anyone else on the stage.


This is a problem. Barring disaster, President Obama will finish his term with a growing economy. Republicans need to show Americans that they can do better—that they can deliver growth and resources to the people who need them. Otherwise, little else matters. The Democratic nominee will inherit the Obama economy and prevail.

The GOP Debate: Republicans Have No Answer to the Key 2016 QuestionNEW REPUBLIC // BRIAN BEUTLER

Against that backdrop, the most revealing question of the first half of the debate, addressed to Carly Fiorina, posited that Democrats will point out, accurately, that the labor market has performed better in modern times under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones, and that it performed particularly poorly under the previous Republican president.


Fiorina, quite tellingly, had no answer. At one point she groundlessly asserted that “problems have gotten much worse under Democrats,” basically contradicting the factually accurate premise of the question.

But Baker was right. Absent a new recession or a big economic slowdown, this is going to be not just the subtext, but the text of a Democratic candidacy.

That’s not liberal media cheerleading. That’s the expectation, I would imagine, of every intelligent operative working in Republican politics today.