President Trump has repeatedly asserted that before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. was in the midst of the “greatest economy in the history of our country.”

But the rhetoric certainly doesn’t live up to reality. In fact, Trump’s boasting doesn’t hold up, even to a cursory examination of the data.

Considering real GDP growth through the first 13 quarters of his presidency – before the COVID-19 lockdowns wrecked the economy – Trump ranks dead last among all the presidents since 1948.

Annualized Real GDP Growth Rate Per Presidential Term, From Highest To Lowest (Courtesy of David Stockman)

  1. Truman: 5.5%
  2. Kennedy-Johnson: 5.2%
  3. Clinton: 3.8%
  4. Reagan: 3.6%
  5. Carter: 3.2%
  6. Nixon-Ford: 2.7%
  7. Eisenhower: 2.5%
  8. Bush the Elder: 2.2%
  9. Bush the Younger: 1.9%
  10. Obama: 1.9%
  11. Trump: 1.8%.

Some will argue that U.S. GDP as measured in Q1, 2020, set a record of $19.254 before the lockdowns drug the economy into the gutter. This, Trump apologists proclaim, vindicates the president’s “greatest economy” boasting. First-quarter 2020 GDP did indeed set a record. But U.S. real GDP growth has set an all-time record in the final quarter of every president’s term in office since Truman.

To make matters worse, Trump increased government spending substantially to buy this tepid economic growth. Since Trump took office, the U.S. government added over $7 trillion to the national debt.

Most people blame the coronavirus pandemic for the surging debt. But the Trump administration was running up massive deficits before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. It simply continued and accelerated the spending problem inherited from the Obama administration. The truth is the federal government was spending as if there was a major economic crisis before the current economic crisis.

The proof is in the numbers.

In fiscal 2019, the Trump administration ran the fifth-biggest deficit in history. Through the first two months of fiscal 2020, the deficit was already 12 percent over 2019’s huge Obama-like number and was on track to eclipse $1 trillion. Prior to 2020, the U.S. government had only run deficits over $1 trillion four times, all during the Great Recession. We were approaching that number prior to the pandemic, despite what Trump kept calling “the greatest economy in the history of America.”

Stockman identifies the larger point.

“Trump’s wholehearted embrace of sheer fiscal and monetary madness has not only left the nation spiraling toward the Mother of all Financial Disasters, but he has also finally euthanized what remained of GOP fiscal rectitude. And without even a semblance of two-party competition on the fundamental matter of financial discipline in a 21st-century interest group and PAC-driven Welfare State democracy, there is no apparent political route to restoring sustainable public finances.”

Mike Maharrey