When you’re losing in politics, the greatest gift of all might be a change of subject.
Democrats have, for months, been building confidence that this year’s midterm elections would turn on anger over restrictive abortion laws or Donald Trump’s legal woes. They’ve taken solace in Republicans nominating candidates who aren’t great campaigners, lie outside the mainstream or both.
But for millions of voters, there is one issue above all else, perhaps just one worth considering: the economy. And it shot back to the top of the list Tuesday with the nauseating news that inflation remains untamed.
The numbers announced Tuesday are grim: consumer prices up 8.3% from a year ago, rises in “core” inflation accelerating, and a corresponding plunge in financial markets.
There’s some good news for families in the continued decline of gas prices. The fall from the $5 peak is needed relief, but we’re still paying much more for fuel than in years past — and that raises the price of goods across the board.
Rents are alarmingly high, too, with increases not seen in nearly 40 years. We’re feeling that pinch particularly in Fort Worth, where a hot real estate market and housing shortage are driving double-digit rent spikes in many cases.
The fear is that this is only the first pinch of the economic pain. Economists are warning of more interest rate increases — it’s the most reliable way to wring out inflation, but the side effect is a much slower economy, perhaps even a deep recession.
Inflation is a pressing daily reminder that things are headed in the wrong direction. Cutting back on family expenses will weigh more on voters than any other issue.
It’s important to remember, too, that tens of millions of voters barely dip into the ins and outs of politics. They aren’t following every candidate’s dumb utterance or the latest court rulings about the Mar-a-Lago raid. But they dutifully vote, and when they think about what’s going on in their lives and the country, they think about their grocery bills much more than those abortion bills in state legislatures.
It’s natural that they’ll blame the party in power nationally. Democrats know this, and that’s why they want the focus on MAGA or anything, really, other than the economy. Besides, when President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders talk about it, their answers are pathetic, such as trying to convince voters last month that inflation was a thing of the past.
The inflation report landed on the very day the White House set out to celebrate the Inflation Reduction Act, that Orwellian-named law that tosses more federal money at climate change, health care — everything except actually cutting inflation. Mr. President, karma is holding on line one.
Republicans haven’t outlined specific plans to address inflation (or many other policy issues, really). But they can point to where Democrats made it all so much worse than it had to be. Congress poured gushers of federal money into an already saturated economy. The president desperately tossed more dollars out the door in student-loan relief, a brazen attempt to buy enthusiasm among Democratic voters.
They can simply say: Look around at the results of united Democratic governance. Would you like to place a check on that?
Every election is a stew of causes and effects. Concerns about abortion rights and ongoing antipathy toward Trump will no doubt drive some voters. There are plenty of other X factors, including individual candidates and races.
History casts favor on the out-of-power party to begin with. Add in the daily crush of inflation, and it’s hard to see the daily distractions of the chattering class changing that much.
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