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What This Week's Economic Jitters Mean For Trump's Reelection Bid


President Trump has been talking about the strength of the economy since he got elected, and many of his allies wish he would talk about it even more as he tries to get voters to back him a second time. Well, Trump was doing just that last night at a rally in New Hampshire.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401ks, down the tubes. Everything is going to be down the tubes. So whether you love me or hate me, you've got to vote for me.

KELLY: Although, voters might be feeling a little nervous about their 401ks after what even the president has had to admit have been, quote, "a couple of bad days." Well, here to talk about the president and the economy as 2020 looms is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Welcome.


KELLY: So the president is right on message talking about the economy, unfortunately in a week where the economy for most of us, at least the stock market, has been a little scary to watch. Help us make sense of how he sees this.

ORDOÑEZ: I will do my best. On the one hand, the president is saying everything is going to plan. You heard him there. He says job numbers are good. Consumer spending is strong. The economy is the best in the world. But at the same time, he is also acknowledging that people are worried that investors are uneasy after a big, huge one-day drop in the stock market. There's also an economic slowing in China and Germany and other parts of the world.

And we did see from him some recognition of these concerns. You know, he - for the first time, he acknowledged that tariffs could impact consumer spending when he postponed tariffs against China until December.

KELLY: Right.

ORDOÑEZ: And he's also continuing to attack the Federal Reserve. And now he's attacking news media, saying the press is hurting the economy by talking about a possible recession.

KELLY: Is he or his administration doing anything to plan for if this is more than a couple of bad days, if we are headed for a downturn?

ORDOÑEZ: At this point, they haven't changed course. They still believe in the pressure campaign against China. They are projecting confidence that a deal can be reached. But we do know that Trump watches the stock market very closely. And after that big drop in the market, the president did reach out to executives at three of the largest banks - Citibank, Chase, Bank of America. I do want to note that they were already at the White House, but the president did call them from New Jersey.

But in public, I will say that Trump is dismissing the possibility of the recession and saying it's others. It's other countries that are hurting, and not the United States.

KELLY: What about more privately? When you were at the White House trying to work sources, will they talk about whether they are worried about the economy and I guess the politics of it, the impact on the president's reelection campaign?

ORDOÑEZ: Yes. President Trump's main argument since he was elected for reelection has been the strong economy. I reached out to a senior administration official today who noted that there are still several things that have not been closed, several open issues. China is one. Another issue is the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

KELLY: Right.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, add to that that the president is, you know, somewhat unpopular among - outside the confines of the Republican faithful. He needs this economy to hold. If it doesn't, the senior official told me he's going to be in a lot of trouble. And a lot of presidential advisers acknowledge that it's the economy that allows more moderate Republicans to overlook some of the more aggressive and uncomfortable rhetoric. So, you know, the president said to the crowd in New Hampshire that we got - it could be a lot worse, but here we are now.

KELLY: Have you had the courage to check your 401k this week?

ORDOÑEZ: I have not.

KELLY: OK, NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thanks.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.