Bill Clinton came in and presided over — yes, Ronald Reagan fans — the most economically successful eight years in the last half century. The Clinton recovery started, it’s worth noting, with a budget bill in his first year that received not a single Republican vote in Congress. And while it’s true that Mr. Clinton made moves that have come to be criticized — like following the lead of Wall Street-friendly advisers like his secretary of Treasury, Robert Rubin, and signing a Republican bill that deregulated banking — he left office having created 22 million jobs and reduced the budget deficit, as he liked to put it, from 11 zeros to simply zero. (In fact, he left a budget surplus.)
Seven years later, in 2008, George W. Bush came razor-close to overseeing a collapse of the global economy. Much of it was his fault, or his administration’s. The most notable misstep was a lack of regulation of the banking sector. In 2008, the economy lost around 2.5 million jobs, an average of around 215,000 a month for the entire year.
Liberals will forever debate whether Barack Obama did enough. (Should the stimulus have been larger? Should some bankers have been prosecuted?) Still, the country went from losing 700,000 jobs a month when Mr. Obama took office to gaining, over his second term, an average of about 199,000 jobs a month.
He did this despite Republicans’ rediscovery of austerity, which they imposed through wall-to-wall obstruction, even risking the country’s credit standing by tying a debt-limit increase to spending-cut demands.
President Trump’s economy — enhanced by massive deficit spending, which somehow ceased to bother Republicans — was chugging along before the pandemic, creating around 6.6 million jobs, or about 175,000 a month (still lower than Mr. Obama’s second term average). He made no effort to address the longstanding problem of economic inequality and arguably exacerbated it with his 2017 tax cut. And since the coronavirus crisis, according to the St. Louis Fed, the economy has lost nearly 13 million jobs, leaving Mr. Trump, for now, more than six million jobs in the red.
Obviously, the coronavirus was not Mr. Trump’s fault. He can be faulted, however, for the botched response to it and for much of the resulting economic mess. A national lockdown from March to June, besides limiting the number of deaths, would have made that illusory “V-shaped recovery” far more likely and the economy far more resilient.
But the Trump administration didn’t do that. And experts foresee more economic duress. The Conference Board, for example, predicts a baseline contraction of gross domestic product by about 5 percent in 2020.