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Next GOP Debate Needs Laser Focus On The Economy

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON -- After the combative, vacuous questions CNBC reporters asked in the last Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump wants to set the terms of the next televised event for himself.


The billionaire real estate mogul wants to negotiate the rules for future debates directly with the network television executives. He announced his plan in the midst of an effort by the other GOP candidates and their party to set forth a list of demands on how the debates should be run.

Trump's unilateral move appeared to be an attempt to take control of the debates to suit his campaign style, after last week's televised fistfight largely avoided the economic issues the business news network promised to discuss at length.

With the economy in a sharp slowdown this year, it was a missed opportunity for the GOP to remind voters how badly President Obama has handled the nation's economic problems. Among a lengthening list of economic troubles that the administration reported last week:

Economic growth, as measured by the gross domestic product, slowed down to a mediocre 1.5 percent in the third quarter, as businesses cut production to prevent a buildup in inventories. It was the biggest reduction in three years.

The Market Watch website said "the third-quarter drop-off almost assures the U.S. will fail to break 3 percent annual growth in 2015 for the 10th straight year."

The economy's quarterly growth rates under President Obama's policies have been minuscule compared to the economic recovery under President Reagan in the 1980s. His economy came roaring out of a two-year recession in 1983, posting GDP growth rates of 3.2 percent, 5.6 percent and 7.7 percent between the second and fourth quarters.


In 1984, his tax cut-fueled recovery posted quarterly GDP growth rates of 8.5 percent, 7.9 percent, 6.9 percent and 5.8 percent.

There were other signs of a weakening economy in the past week that received little attention in the national news media and were entirely unnoticed by the broadcast news networks.

New home sales, a critical component in the economy's strength, slumped in September to a 10-month low, falling 11.5 percent. They were revised lower by the Commerce Department in the two previous months.

The other economic shocker was consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of our economy. It barely budged by 0.1 percent, the weakest rise since spending dropped in January.

Flat income growth has long been the hallmark of the Obama economy. It crept up by 0.1 percent in September -- the smallest in four months.

These and other economic data should have dominated last week's Republican debate. More to the point, CNBC's moderators should have pounded them home, one by one, in a series of questions that focused on Obama's failure to strengthen the American economy.

But anyone who regularly watches CNBC -- and I do -- knows that in its treatment of the economy, the network anchors rarely discuss its troubles in the context of the president's policies.

The administration's policies are on one planet and the economy is on another, and neither have anything to do with one another.

But the networks can't ignore the truth forever, and the presidential candidates don't have to respond to the stupid questions they got last week.


The next candidate debate will follow this Friday's jobs report and will be a test of whether the Republican candidates can refocus the issues on what matters -- like getting a job and earning a living.

According to economic forecasters, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics "will issue another mediocre jobs report," says Peter Morici, business economist at the University of Maryland.

Private forecasters "estimate 190,000 jobs were created in October -- well below the 260,000 averaged in (October) 2014," Morici says.

"The White House will tout the economy as doing quite well -- proclaiming 61 consecutive months of jobs creation -- and liberal commentators like New York Times columnist and CNBC analyst John Harwood may offer this as more proof that the economy does better with a Democrat in the White House," Morici writes in his weekly analysis.

But when Morici compares Obama's record with Reagan's, it isn't a close match. Both faced deep recessions when they took office, but they dealt with them very differently and got very different results.

"Unemployment peaked at 10 percent in (Obama's) first term, but since (then) the economy has reclaimed and added 12.6 million jobs and employment rose 9.8 percent," he says.

However, the "Gipper faced tough times, too -- double-digit unemployment and interest rates and a bruising recession. Unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent, but subsequently the economy added more than 17.2 million jobs and employment rose 19.4 percent."


The reason Reagan "created so many more jobs -- in a much smaller economy -- is quite simple," Morici says. "It wasn't just lower taxes ... but rather a reliance on private decisions to guide recovery. He cleared a path for business, large and small, to invest as they deemed fit and raise wages as they decided they could afford, and encouraged the unemployed to get out and look for work."

The result: "Through the first 25 quarters of Obama's recovery, GDP growth has averaged 2.1 percent, whereas during the comparable period for Reagan, GDP advanced at a 4.6 percent annual pace," Morici says.

The Republican Party's candidates should be pounding these comparisons in its future debates and focusing on the failed Obama economy like a laser beam.

There's a reason why jobs and the economy are at the top of America's foremost concerns. And the GOP should not let the liberal news networks get away with its cover-up.

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