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The Defining Issue of the 2024 Presidential Campaign? The Economy.

Earlier this week, former President Trump proposed a 10% “universal” tariff on virtually all foreign imports into the United States. The White House quickly dismissed the proposal - arguing that it would lead to higher prices and inflation. Despite his (physical) absence from last night’s initial Republican Presidential Primary debate, Trump’s proposal foreshadows what’s likely to be the key talking point in the 2024 general election: the state of the American economy and the effects on consumer financial health.

Want more proof? The opening question during last night’s debate prompted candidates to describe their thoughts on the efficacy of “Bidenomics” and to outline their plans to bolster the economy. The question was accompanied by recorded quotes from Wisconsin voters about the effects of inflation on consumer prices.

Vivek Ramaswamy highlighted his business record and proposed unlocking American energy as a vehicle for economic prosperity. Chris Christie was pressed about New Jersey’s debt during his time as governor. Governor Nikki Haley criticized Republicans for “signing off” on major spending legislation and contributing $8 trillion to the national debt. Former Vice President Pence was asked to defend the Trump Administration’s spending and he vowed to restore fiscal responsibility. Governor Asa Hutchinson pointed to his record of lowering taxes in his state of Arkansas. Senator Tim Scott talked about restoring the American Dream by “bringing jobs home from China.” And so on.

Obviously other issues were discussed over the course of the debate – abortion, immigration, crime, the indictment of President Trump, UFOs (yes, really). However, many of the other issues raised, like homelessness, energy production, and financial support for Ukraine, are directly tied to federal spending and state of the national economy. And the fact that the first question asked was about the state of our economy was telling, as were the notably-animated responses of many of the candidates.

Outside of the debate, as pundits and many in the electorate decry the effects of inflation, President Biden continues to tout low unemployment and post-COVID economic gains as the defining accomplishments of his presidency thus far. A recent victory lap on the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act is illustrative. But in terms of the national economy, a lot could happen between now and November 2024.

Expect these economic talking points to pop up on both sides of congressional races across the country as they ramp up next year. But will these conversations drive substantive policy going forward? While that ultimately depends on who’s elected, it’s hard to imagine that the next President and congressional leadership miss an opportunity to produce some kind of major economic platform for 2024.


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