For years, President Trump has discussed with his advisers—with a hint of worry—the possibility of an economic recession occurring on his watch.
Ever since early 2017, he’s made it plain to aides that he understands how a recession can cripple, or destroy, a presidency. Trump has also long made it abundantly clear that if a recession does happen, he knows exactly whom to blame: chiefly, his enemies in the media, and a Federal Reserve chairman whom he’s privately compared to an inept golfer.
According to three people who’ve spoken to Trump about recessions and the American economy since 2017, the president has repeatedly voiced concerns—or bitter annoyance—about what he views as media outlets’ ability, or even alleged desire, to help create economic recession through self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of these sources said they’ve heard Trump say at least three times over the past two and a half years that the media would “love it if” a recession occurred during his first term, seriously harming his chances at re-election in 2020. Since his inauguration, the president has brought up the subject of possible recession, sometimes as an unprompted tangent, in various policy and messaging discussions, including on health care, taxes, and trade.
“[Trump] thinks recessions or booms are often self-fulfilling prophecies,” another one of the sources said. “He’s said when the media starts beating the drum about a recession coming, that negativity gets into people’s heads and they change their behavior: less purchasing, fewer entrepreneurs starting small businesses, people moving money out of the market, [and so on]. That’s why he’s so concerned about the coverage of a potential recession… He believes he can will the economy in a positive direction by feeding optimism to the ‘American spirit.’”
The president himself posted to Twitter on Thursday afternoon: “The Fake News Media is doing everything they can to crash the economy because they think that will be bad for me and my re-election.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story. But by Thursday, it was clear that prominent media defenders of Trump’s, several of whom moonlight as top informal advisers to the president, had begun to coalesce around the narrative that much of the mainstream media craved a recession to oust Trump.
During the broadcast of his eponymous show on Wednesday, conservative talk radio giant and Trump ally Rush Limbaugh claimed that fears of an upcoming recession were largely the creation of a Trump-loathing media in order to help the Democratic Party in the upcoming election.
“Keep in mind why all of this is being said: There is a presidential election in 15 months and the people behind this hate Donald Trump.”
— Rush Limbaugh
“It’s really, really important that you not let all of this Drive-By Media, fake economic news, talk you into believing that we are on the verge of another gigantic recession or maybe depression,” he exclaimed in a segment that was later replayed on “straight news” Fox News TV show Fox News @ Night on Wednesday evening. “And keep in mind why all of this is being said: There is a presidential election in 15 months and the people behind this hate Donald Trump.”
Devoting much of his Wednesday airtime to allaying concerns about the economy and the Dow Jones’ plummet that day, Limbaugh further indicated that the media also overplayed the Great Recession in 2007-08 to damage Republicans, calling it the “so-called financial crisis of 2008.”
Limbaugh was back at it on Thursday, insisting that reporting on the stock market sinking over fears of an oncoming recessions was a “dry run for later on in the election season” and an effort to “see if they could affect pretty much blanket media coverage with the drop of a dime that we are in a recession or on the verge of a recession.”
Over on Fox Business Network, meanwhile, two of the president’s most loyal media supporters have also latched onto the idea that the media is attempting to undermine the economy in order to crush Trump.
After asserting on Wednesday that the “media wants a recession” and will “go to great lengths” to trumpet its arrival, Varney and Co. host Stuart Varney embraced the talking point again on Thursday’s program.
“We’ve got all this talk, very prevalent on the left and in the media, ‘Oh, we are going to have a recession and the interest rate inversion tells you we are going toward recession,’” the Fox Business host declared, asking Fox News’ Lisa Marie Boothe how she would run PR for the president. Boothe, meanwhile, agreed that the left does “want a recession because they know that’s the easiest way to get President Trump out of the White House.”
Lou Dobbs, a Trump confidant, began his Fox Business show on Wednesday night grumbling that “much of the leftist media and business press were agog” over the inversion of the yield curve.
“The leftist national media [were] talking down the Trump stock market and the Trump economy today,” the Lou Dobbs Tonight host bellowed. “Their focus, obviously, on 2020 and putting a radical Dimm in the White House.”
Still, for now, the president and his team are doing their best to present the same, rosy forecast on the supposedly unstoppable Trump economy. As for what they hope is just this week’s bump in the road, the president and his economic adviser Peter Navarro are also content to heap scorn and blame upon the Fed, evidence be damned.
“This is basically the Federal Reserve’s problem—volatility,” Navarro said on Fox News on Wednesday. “They are causing this because when [Federal Reserve chair Jerome] Powell got in as chairman he proceeded to raise interest rates by 100 interest points, too far too fast. And even though the Trump economy is rock solid, it slowed us down a bit because of those higher interest rates.”
Powell, perhaps more so than media outlets, has become a primary target, both in private and in public, of the president’s ire over economic matters and interest rates.
Stephen Moore, a conservative economist at the Heritage Foundation and an economic adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, told The Daily Beast that when he’s met with the president in recent months, Trump makes clear that “he thinks Powell is the worst appointment he’s ever made,” noting that nearly “every meeting I’ve been in with him, he’s said it… He’s obsessed with Powell and the Fed.”
Moore added that roughly a month ago, he went to the White House for a “general meeting” with the president and others to discuss a “hodgepodge of stuff,” and that “it was just to talk about how things are going, there wasn’t one particular [set] topic.”
Of course, Trump brought up the Fed, so he could once again clown on Powell.
“He always asks about the Fed, and how they’re doing a terrible job,” Moore said. “He used the metaphor that ‘[Powell] has no feel for the green.’ He likes to use golfing metaphors. ‘He’s like a golfer who has no feel for the green,’ he’s said.”