The January jobs report was released on Friday morning, and, just like every report since 2010 it showed a net increase in jobs. Of course Donald Trump, who has been critical of the report in the past, took a positive view of this one, the first of his presidency. Sort of.
According to the Associated Press, Trump hailed the new jobs numbers, saying,
"Great spirit in the country right now. We're very happy about that. We're bringing back jobs, we're bringing down your taxes, we're getting rid of your regulations."
The report was a strong one, with 227,000 jobs added and the unemployment rate moving slightly upward due to more people looking for work this is a good thing). And it belongs 100 percent, lock, stock, and barrel, to Barack Obama.
As Business Insider pointed out, the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts the survey that leads to the jobs report on the "week and pay period that includes the 12th of the month." Of course that inconvenient fact was lost on the Orange Emperor's media allies. The 25-watt-bulbs of Fox and Friends were all over it. Correspondent Heather Nauert crowed about the numbers, observing that 227,000 new jobs were "a lot more than expected." But, as Media Matters noted, when similar numbers were released throughout Obama's term, Fox didn't see them as such a good thing.
In February 2015, the economy added 257,000 new jobs, but Fox was concerned that the unemployment rate ticked up by 0.1 points -- the same increase the rate showed in today’s report. In October of that year, Fox & Friends stumbled through a news alert in which a host claimed the economy created “only 271,000 jobs … last month” even though that report, like the data released today, also beat expectations. Last January, Fox’s spin was to claim that 292,000 new jobs was “modest by historical standards,” though it was well over this month’s 227,000. And in April 2016 the network parsed the jobs data to conclude that a report showing 215,000 new jobs was unimpressive because 47,000 of those were allegedly low-quality retail positions.
Not too very long ago, Trump was criticizing the jobs report, calling the official unemployment rate "one of the biggest hoaxes in politics." During the campaign he showed that he really doesn't understand what goes into calculating the unemployment numbers, complaining that "every month it's different." He also wildly exaggerated the rate, claiming on various occasions that it was anywhere from 18 to 42 percent.
The first jobs numbers that will belong to Trump will arrive one month from now, but even they will come with a caveat. A new president's economic policies don't take hold overnight, so for the next several months the numbers will reflect what President Obama accomplished. Just as it took George W. Bush a while to destroy economic growth, and Barack Obama a couple of years to get it back, don't expect to get a good idea of what Trump is doing to the country before at least the second half of the year.
Given his history, it will be interesting to see how Trump reacts when his job numbers turn sour. As former Obama administration economist Gene Sperling noted in The Atlantic, sooner or later Trump is going to get some economic numbers that he won't like. The concern is that Team Trump will spin those numbers into "alternative facts."
Trump has shown an almost compulsive unwillingness to accept any number that does not align with a combination of his self-image and gut instinct. His insistence that the crowd at his inauguration (which was estimated to number 160,000 to 250,000) was larger than that at Barack Obama’s (1.8 million)—or even the 450,000 to 500,000 who showed up for the Women’s March the next day—is the latest and most disturbing example of this behavior. It is not hard to imagine Trump refusing to accept a weak manufacturing jobs report because it contradicts his gut view that his bully-pulpit efforts to encourage domestic car production are working.
Trump's behavior indicates he could tread the same path as Richard Nixon, who, when confronted with poor economic numbers, replaced several top BLS officials with people loyal to him.
We knew this day was coming, and we knew what the reaction would be, from both the Tangerine Tyrant and his loyal minions in right-wing media. Now we wait and see what will happen when Trump owns the economy. Will he still accept the official numbers, or will he go back to his campaign tactic of shooting the messenger?