Editorial: It’s the economy, stupid

Hillary Clinton has decided to campaign on the Obama administration’s economic record, applauding the president for lifting the nation out of the worst downturn since the 1930s. But that becomes a tougher sell as the country plods along, wheezing with a case of slow growth.

New figures released Friday reveal the U.S. gross domestic product increased just 1.2 percent in the first half of 2016. The number puts the exclamation point on the fact that — eight years removed from the onset of a major recession — the country remains mired in the weakest expansion in more than six decades.

“Hang in there,” or “Things could be worse” are hardly inspiring campaign slogans.

While by some measures, the economy has improved — consumer spending and the labor market show signs of life — sluggish growth threatens to sabotage progress.

“Economic growth is now tracking at a 1 percent rate in 2016 — the weakest start to a year since 2011,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. “That makes for an annual average rate of 2.1 percent … since the end of the recession, the weakest pace of any expansion since at least 1949.”

The performance highlights how Mrs. Clinton’s strategy to extol Mr. Obama’s economic policies carries significant risks. “The economy in terms of growth rate of GDP is clearly not a plus for the Democrats in 2016,” Yale Professor Ray Fair told the Wall Street Journal this week.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found Americans, by a 48-43 margin, have more trust in Donald Trump to improve economic conditions than they do in Mrs. Clinton.

To make matters worse, Mrs. Clinton has veered sharply to the left in order to appease the followers of socialist Bernie Sanders. That makes it difficult for her to champion a “return to ‘Clinton economics,’ the balanced-budget, pro-free trade policies of her husband’s administration in the 1990s that helped fuel an economic boom,” the Washington Post noted last week.

Indeed. Mrs. Clinton has essentially disavowed the pro-growth agenda that her husband, with the prodding of a Republican Congress, implemented two decades earlier. In its place, she instead seeks to appeal to big government progressives by embracing higher taxes and promising to continue the rapid expansion of the regulatory state, which has contributed to a listless GDP.

A stagnate economy hampers efforts to improve living standards, increase opportunity and attack government deficits. By offering herself as a third term of the Obama presidency, Mrs. Clinton won’t inspire much confidence among voters hoping for an economic revival.

That’s a fact Mr. Trump must seek to exploit.

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