Stock market highs complicate Donald Trump’s 2024 economic message

Early in 2023, Donald Trump clearly thought he had a winning issue with stocks.

A regular part of his message was to claim President Biden was market poison, with the former president vigorously comparing the down year of 2022 to the Great Depression of 1929.

“Does anyone have a 401(k)? Raise your hand if you’re happy with it,” he asked of a crowd in Davenport, Iowa, back in March. “They were happy when I was running this country,” he added.

But the market has been on a tear since then, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) reaching a new all-time record in December and the S&P 500 (^GSPC) now on the cusp of a similar milestone.

Where markets ended the year all but assures the ups and downs of stocks will be a regular feature on the campaign trail in 2024 in what is widely expected to be a Biden/Trump rematch.

For Trump’s part, the recent highs have forced a candidate who loves to tout highs into the unusual role of market minimizer.

“The stock market is making rich people richer,” Trump disapprovingly told a crowd on Dec. 16 in Durham, N.H., before quickly moving on to other topics.

He offered similar comments in Reno, Nev., the next day. He didn’t ask for a 401(k) show of hands but instead claimed “Biden’s inflation catastrophe is demolishing your savings, ravaging your dreams.”

The former president’s speeches as he hops between early voting states are largely focused on issues like inflation as well as claiming that the array of criminal charges against him — 91 felony counts across four separate cases — are being driven by politics.

For the president’s part, the market highs have provided an opportunity for his campaign to do some trolling around a Trump prediction that markets would crash under Biden.

“Good one, Donald” Biden posted on X the day of the Dow’s record alongside a video that juxtaposed Trump’s 2020 prediction with news coverage of the high.

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Biden. of course, is facing a broader challenge with voters who have given him historically weak economic numbers.

The sense of economic uncertainty has plagued his reelection campaign, dragged down his overall approval rating, and led many to conclude he could be the 2024 underdog against Trump.

Biden aides, meanwhile, say they are seeing some signs of improvement on his economic rating as consumer sentiment ticks up and inflation pressures ease.

A sharp pivot from Trump’s time in office

On markets, the whiplash in how Trump talked about the issue as 2023 drew to a close was even starker when compared with his time in office.

In his messages from the Oval Office from 2017 to 2021, the then-president almost never let a stock market high pass without an exuberant comment. “I will never get bored of telling you that — and we will never get tired of winning!” he wrote in 2019 in one of countless examples.

As market gains have continued to mount this year, Trump has talked about the stock market less and less during his speeches, according to a Yahoo Finance review of transcripts throughout the year.

But he has still turned to the topic on occasion to tout his record.

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump claps during a campaign event at the Whittemore Center Arena on December 16, 2023 in Durham, New Hampshire. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images) (Scott Eisen via Getty Images)

“As we were leaving, our stock market was higher than it was just prior to COVID,” he said at Florida Freedom Summit on Nov. 4, adding “nobody thought a thing like that was possible.”

But the market has boomed since that Florida speech, gaining each week, and the former president apparently hasn’t made that same boast more recently.

All told, 2023 ended with the Dow rising 13.7% for the year. The S&P is up over 24% with the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite rising 43.4%.

Nobody, of course, knows where the market will head in 2024 — and whether daily ups and downs will change America’s perception of the Biden and Trump economic records — but market action appears set to be matched by plenty of comment from both candidates.

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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