Why are the GOP hopefuls so quiet on job creation?
Voters rarely pressing candidates on their views
MANCHESTER, N.H. — The national polls are clear: Americans from both political parties say the economy, especially job creation, is the biggest issue facing the country. But on the presidential campaign trail, GOP candidates rarely address the country’s jobs’ prospects specifically, and voters from both parties seldom ask them about it.
In past contests, White House hopefuls often discussed their plans to create jobs and improve the economy. Mitt Romney released a five-point plan months before the 2012 Iowa caucuses — a late proposal compared with some of his GOP rivals. President Obama promoted his American Jobs Act throughout the general election that followed.
But less than three months before the first nomination contest in Iowa, nearly all of the major 2016 GOP presidential candidates have yet to release a comprehensive plan or grand vision for improving the country’s economy and jobs if elected.
One likely reason: The jobs environment is strong by many accounts. On Friday, the federal government said 271,000 jobs were added to the American economy in October, dropping the unemployment rate to 5 percent, its lowest in seven years.
But as Republicans head into another debate Tuesday, produced by Fox Business Channel and focused on financial topics, they will have a chance to outline how they could further improve the nation’s economy, parts of which have been slow to recover seven years after the Great Recession began. For example, the labor participation rate is at 62 percent, its lowest in 38 years.
At the same time, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week showed just 27 percent of Americans believe the country is on the right track, a number that typically follows economic mood. The same poll showed 38 percent of respondents felt the economy was the biggest issue for voters in 2016, followed by “social issues and values” with 16 percent.
“The lack of a big conversation about jobs has been a huge missed opportunity so far for the Republican candidates, especially given that the economy will decide this election,” said Stuart Stevens, the strategist who oversaw Romney’s 2012 campaign.
Democrats running for president in 2016 have mostly talked about the country’s mixed economy in terms of income inequality. The candidates — former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley — frequently say the economic recovery is disproportionately benefiting the wealthy.
A Republican, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, released a “21st Century Jobs Plan” this summer that almost solely emphasizes his ideas for tax reform.
And other Republicans have made proposals that address certain aspects of the economy. A handful have offered tax plans. Governor John Kasich of Ohio touts his plan to balance the federal budget. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has laid out a proposal for Social Security. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has proposed plans to change the tax system, including expanding the earned income tax credit. New York businessman Donald Trump wants to increase taxes on hedge fund managers. Former US senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has released a plan aimed at reviving the manufacturing sector.
But when candidates toured manufacturing plants this week in New Hampshire, the conversation wasn’t about jobs — at least not specifically.
On Thursday, Rubio visited a manufacturing plant on Manchester’s west side, a blue-collar community. He delivered prepared remarks about defense spending and didn’t mention “jobs” once. Later that day, Bush toured a different manufacturing plant in Somersworth, where he said that workers’ compensation and taxes were hurting businesses.
But this campaign is different, one often dominated by Trump’s high wattage personality.
“If you are Jeb Bush, and you put out a big jobs and economy position, you’ll be accused of being low energy. This primary makes no sense,” said state Senate leader Jeb Bradley, a top Republican in New Hampshire. “These plans are the building blocks of a campaign that provide a road map for governing.”
As a result, Bradley said, candidates discuss the economy in piecemeal instead of “painting a picture” of a vision for the country’s fiscal future.
When Christie hosted a town hall meeting in Somersworth on Friday morning, he fielded questions about raising the minimum wage, and he offered that the Federal Reserve should increase interest rates. On Wednesday, Trump told a crowd of supporters at the New Hampshire State House that “if I am elected, we’ll have jobs so much.” But since the start of his campaign, Trump’s vow to create more jobs has lacked specifics.
“People are becoming part-time employees. That is not going to happen with Trump. Thank you,” he said to the audience, then exited.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina spent part of his time campaigning in New Hampshire this week, touring a homeless shelter under construction in Manchester. In an interview, he acknowledged his campaign had not released a broad jobs plan.
“I’ll release one when people are paying attention, but I do have a plan and it will involve getting Democratic votes so we can get something passed,” Graham said. “But someone just releasing a tax plan is just releasing a piece of a jobs plan.”
While in New Hampshire, Graham and other Republican candidates often tour Turbocam International Inc., a software applications company in Barrington. Marian Noronha founded the company largely on credit card debt in the 1970s and now has roughly 750 employees.
When Noronha gets a few minutes to talk privately to candidates before their tour, he tells them lower taxes, less restrictions for capital formation, and less government regulation would allow him to hire more people.
Specifically, he believes the inheritance tax is the main reason why he hasn’t hired another 100 employees.
“When I talk to these candidates my impression is that they understand these issues, but that voters really don’t,” Noronha said. “But, yes, I would like to see candidates lay out what they would do to help.”
More than ever in the 2016 election, Tuesday’s debate could bring an opportunity for a candidate or two to present a greater vision for the country’s economic future. “Jobs and wages have not received the attention from the field they should given how important they are and how poor the labor market is right now,” said Michael Strain, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington conservative think tank. “The combination of the sheer number of candidates, and Trump sucking up the oxygen, has resulted in a really poor policy discussion so far.”