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Trump’s decision to tie his performance to the markets isn’t looking so hot

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/15/2019 Philip Bump

a sign in front of a television: Stock numbers for Apple are displayed on a monitor on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the opening bell on Aug, 13, 2019.

Stock numbers for Apple are displayed on a monitor on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange at the opening bell on Aug, 13, 2019.
© Drew Angerer/Getty Images

You don’t need us to go digging into President Trump’s old tweets to find examples of him either disparaging poor stock market performance under his predecessors (for example) or praising stock market jumps under his own administration (for example). You can search his record for yourself and do with it what you will.

What’s important, given the sharp downward moves in the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index on Wednesday, is how often Trump has used the markets as a proxy for his own performance as president. He regularly claims that people come up to him to thank him for the growth they’ve seen in their 401(k)s, and he often hypes gains since he took office — or, more commonly, since the 2016 election — as evidence that the economy is roaring along.

If this is the metric by which he would like to be evaluated, though, we have bad news for him. Compared with other recent presidents, Trump’s performance to date has been, at best, middling.

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Let’s start with Jimmy Carter. Compared with the same point in Carter’s term in office (that is, from inauguration through Aug. 14, 1979), Trump’s doing pretty well. The growth in both the Dow and the S&P 500 easily passes what the markets did under Carter.

(There are scads of caveats and qualifiers that should apply here, such as the economic conditions both presidents inherited and the extent to which market movement is a function of the president’s actions anyway. But we didn’t decide to use market values as a measure of a presidency — Trump did.)

When we compare Trump with Ronald Reagan, he gets a little wobblier. Markets during his time in office are doing about what they did in Reagan’s first term. But they grew much more quickly in Reagan’s second term.

Markets under Trump fare better but still poorly, compared with George H.W. Bush’s term in office.

They currently trail what the markets looked like in both of Bill Clinton’s terms, too.

He’s outperforming George W. Bush on this metric, for what it’s worth, though Bush had to deal with a recession shortly after taking office.

No doubt to Trump’s chagrin, markets are also not doing particularly well compared with the growth they saw during Barack Obama’s two terms in office. The Dow is doing slightly better than it did at the start of Obama’s second term, but that’s about it.

Overall, Dow Jones industrial average growth during Trump’s term ranks sixth out of the last 11 equivalent periods in presidential terms. Growth of the S&P 500 ranks seventh.

When the markets began to sag in early 2018, Trump blamed the dip on there being too much good news about employment. (Really.) He blames the current drop on the Federal Reserve.

The moral of the story, then, is a familiar one: Trump gets the credit but never any blame.

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