OPINION — Republicans have a great economic story to tell if they are willing to tell it. They have less than a month to make their case to voters that the economic policies that House Republicans began pushing in 2010 are finally paying off. Now is the time to reinforce success, not change direction.
On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent, its lowest mark in nearly 50 years. Remarkably, unemployment has stayed under 4 percent for five of the past six months and remains at near record lows for African-Americans, Hispanics and women.
There is no arguing that the jobless rate has dropped significantly under President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress, and most economic indicators give the GOP plenty of positive talking points.
While Democrats are trying to credit the Obama administration for the strong economy, the story of this extraordinary comeback in the American labor market began nearly eight years ago during the 2010 campaign when John Boehner asked, “Where are the jobs?”
“Our new majority will be prepared to do things differently,” the Ohio Republican said on election night, outlining a sweeping agenda to get Americans back to work after the crippling financial crisis. “For all those families asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ it means ending the uncertainty in our economy and helping small businesses get people back to work.”
President Barack Obama had been elected two years earlier on a pledge to fix the economy, and his signature stimulus package promised to put America back to work.
Instead, the jobless rate hit 10 percent by October 2009 and a year later, it was still at 9.4 percent. In the 2010 midterms, a frustrated America took a chance on Republican economic policies by handing them 63 new seats — and a new majority — in the House.
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A bold beginning
The Republican plan was as simple as it was ambitious: to lower the tax burdens on small businesses and individuals to stimulate investment and create jobs. This would harness the power of the market to turbocharge growth, instead of pumping federal spending into bridges to nowhere and infrastructure projects that were nowhere near shovel-ready.
A central element of this plan was to ensure that the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts remained permanent. Given the harsh criticism of those cuts leveled by Democrats today, most people are shocked to learn that from 2003 to 2007, yearly federal revenues increased almost $800 billion while the federal deficit by 2007 had been reduced 57 percent, down to only $161 billion.
These GOP tax cuts were clearly working during the Bush years, but their success was lost in the rush to blame anyone or anything other than the Clinton administration’s misguided housing policies that drove the housing market crash a decade later.
After the 2010 election, Republicans entered the fray with the economy still in the doldrums, and pushed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Obama and Hill Democrats agreed to a two-year extension, hoping to regain the House in 2012 and then reshape the tax code in a more progressive direction.
However, even just this extension — along with confidence that incoming Republicans would advocate pro-growth policies — was enough to contribute to an improvement in topline employment figures. By October 2011, less than a year later, unemployment finally fell under 9 percent after 30 consecutive months of or higher. While Obama continued to pile on job-killing regulations, Republicans kept swimming upstream, pushing for lower burdens on small business.
In the 2012 election, the Republicans retained their House majority and were able to continue advocating a permanent lowering of taxes. In December of that year, House Republicans passed a major tax package that “made 98 percent” of the tax cuts permanent, which was signed into law the next month by President Obama.
In January 2013, the unemployment rate stood at 8 percent, but now with tax certainty and stability locked into place, the jobless rate began to creep down. The recovery could have been much faster if President Obama had also agreed to reverse his policy of over-regulation, which was strangling growth.
An eight-year wait
But House and Senate Republicans kept their eye on the prize. When Trump ran and won the presidency with economic messages of lower taxes and less regulation, Hill Republicans finally had a partner after eight long years in the wilderness with Obama.
Working closely with the Trump administration, congressional Republicans set about methodically reversing President Obama’s disastrous regulatory policy that was holding back private sector growth. The landmark 2017 tax bill poured more resources into the private sector, handing small businesses lower rates and more deductions that were aimed at spurring investment.
And so eight years after Boehner posed the question “Where are the jobs?” the results are in. This past June, the Labor Department reported that there were more job openings than Americans looking for work. This is a clear vindication for congressional Republicans who kept fighting for lower taxes during the Obama years and cut rates even further last year.
Republicans — President Trump and congressional GOP majorities — believed in their economic principles, stuck with them and have delivered historic growth with the prospects for even better years ahead. It should be a winning message, but not if the electorate listens to the negative drumbeat of the media, the false claims of Democrats to an economic legacy not of their making, or GOP messaging that focuses more on Nancy Pelosi than on what is one of the most politically potent good-news stories in a generation: the Republican economic comeback.
The best advice I’d give any GOP candidate today is to tell that story. Tell your voters how Republican economic principles have brought America back.
With all of the negative coverage of the Trump administration, there’s a good chance many voters not only do not know what was in last year’s tax overhaul, but they probably have no idea we’re seeing near historic lows in unemployment, especially for women and minorities. Many don’t know wages are rising and small-business creation is exploding nor will they see the news media highlight the administration’s breakthrough trade agreements that mean more jobs and growth.
The outcome of the 2018 election depends on Republicans’ ability to tell their economic story by focusing less on Pelosi and more on what’s at stake for America’s families in this election.
They have 27 days.
David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.