Rising inflation is creating a drag on the Democrats’ 2022 prospects, threatening to send the price of household goods skyrocketing and turn voters against the party’s thin congressional majorities.
Inflation increased significantly in May, pushing the cost of food and gasoline higher just as the United States digs itself out of the pandemic-induced recession of the last year. Republicans blame President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Recovery Plan for flooding the economy with too much taxpayer-subsidized cash and say Democratic proposals to spend trillions more will send inflation spiraling out of control.
Republican strategists say the issue of inflation on its own is not a problem for Democrats. But its impact will be, they say, if the price tag of everyday goods and services spikes over the next 18 months.
“Gas prices are the easiest for people to see, feel, touch, and also the easiest to tie to Biden and the Democrats,” a Republican pollster said before cautioning: “This has yet to come up in our focus groups. People are still focused on employment, recovery, and opening schools.”
Biden enjoys an enviable 54% job approval rating in the RealClearPolitics average and has topped 50% for the balance of his presidency.
That would suggest that the Republicans’ monthslong attacks on the president over his spending plans, and the rise in inflation, are not having much of an impact. But the cost of goods jumped 0.6% in May after rising 0.8% in April and 0.6% in March. Prices on food and energy are moving higher and heading north faster than they have in decades.
Congressional Democrats have little room for error in the midterm elections, and Republicans believe the effects of rising prices will take a political toll over time. On Thursday, after new inflation numbers were released, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a press release attempting to tie higher prices to Biden’s economic agenda.
“We recently highlighted how President Biden’s mismanagement of the economy, by spending trillions of taxpayer dollars on liberal wishlists disguised as ‘COVID relief’ while paying people to stay home and not produce goods has left Americans paying more for everything from groceries to gasoline,” the press release from the California Republican’s office read.
“His tax-and-spend agenda spiked consumer costs across the board, resulting in levels of inflation not seen since Jimmy Carter was president,” the McCarthy press release added.
David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, released a statement making the same charge. “Joe Biden is simultaneously flooding the economy with federal spending while unnecessarily paying people not to work — a recipe for disaster. At every point, Biden has put the priorities of the radical socialist wing of his party first, and this is why American families are seeing skyrocketing prices and a stalled recovery.”
Republicans face two challenges in their effort to make the inflation issue stick. One is a matter of timing — by the time the 2022 campaign is in full swing, prices might stabilize and the economy could be humming, allowing Biden and the Democrats to take credit. Even if inflation is having a negative impact on prices and the economy, simply criticizing Democrats is not enough to turn the issue into a winner for Republicans.
“What that does is get people to say: ‘You’re right, that’s a problem. What’s your solution?” a second GOP pollster said. “It opens the door for a good conversation, but you have to have something to say after you have gotten voters to listen.”