Scrutinizing national elections is difficult because of the many complex variables: It’s a big country, filled with a great many constituencies, each of which have competing interests and priorities. But sometimes, it’s best not to overthink matters: Much of the country is struggling with high inflation and one party is in power, so the other party is likely to do well.
Indeed, CNBC released the results of its latest national poll yesterday, and it showed Republicans with big advantages on the economy, which is voters’ top issue. To be sure, the GOP hasn’t earned credibility on economic policy, and the party certainly doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously on the matter, but when the electorate is dissatisfied with the status quo, minority parties tend to benefit, whether it makes sense or not.
But what makes our current circumstances so unusual is the disconnect between the problem and the solution. As Americans feel economic unease, they’re prepared to reward a party effectively running on a platform of vastly more economic unease.
In a piece for The Bulwark this week, Jonathan V. Last wrote, “Republicans have announced that their electoral case to voters is a promise to create economic instability.”
At face value, that might seem ridiculous. Why would the GOP, poised to benefit from voters’ anxieties about the economic status quo, present an agenda that would destabilize the economy?
And yet, foolish or not, here we are.
On tax policy, Republicans talk quite a bit about inflation, but they’re also pushing for regressive tax breaks that would make inflation worse, not better. When outgoing British Prime Minister Liz Truss pushed a similar agenda, it was a disaster that cost the conservative her office. GOP leaders nevertheless seem eager to repeat her mistake.
On government shutdowns, several Republican officeholders and candidates, including a member of the Senate GOP leadership, have spent recent months saying they’re prepared to shut down government operations next year unless Democrats agree to unspecified austerity measures. This week offered more of the same.
On energy policy, Republicans have already suggested they’ll curtail U.S. support for our Ukrainian allies, as Last’s Bulwark piece added, this would “have the effect of creating more instability in energy markets as it would give Putin a lifeline to prolong his war.”
And on the debt ceiling, GOP officials have spent the last couple of weeks making their plans for next year plain: They want significant changes to Social Security and Medicare, and if Democrats balk, Republicans say they’re prepared to crash the economy on purpose by refusing to pay the country’s bills.
These threats aren’t coming from obscure crackpots in the party. GOP leaders have freely and publicly espoused the plan — out loud and on the record, as if there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to House Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks both talked up the strategy in recent days, as have Rep. Jim Jordan and the GOP congressmen vying for the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee.
My MSNBC colleague Ryan Cooper explained yesterday, “If the debt ceiling were breached, it would likely mean the government would miss an interest payment, putting it in default on the national debt. Because U.S. government debt is a foundation for the global financial system, a shattering financial crisis would probably follow. That’s why Republicans want to take it hostage.”
Chances are, most voters aren’t aware of any this. Much of the country doesn’t know what the debt ceiling is, so the idea that they’ll worry about a self-imposed crisis next year while weighing their midterm election choices is fanciful.
But the fact remains that for voters worried about the economy, only one party is promising to deliver deliberate destabilization.