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As gas prices improve, the GOP shifts its midterm elections focus

As gas prices improve, Republicans are trading one bad faith line of attack for another, trying to shift voters' attention to crime.


After Democrats began advancing the Respect for Marriage Act in July, Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime opponent of marriage equality, predictably dismissed the legislative effort. What stood out, however, was how the Florida Republican tried to shift the focus.

“I know plenty of gay people in Florida that are pissed off about gas prices,” Rubio said a couple of months ago when asked about his opposition to codifying same-sex marriage at the federal level.

It was a clumsy response, though it hinted at an underlying strategy: Republican candidates and incumbents expected to thrive in this year’s elections because consumers didn’t like paying more at the pump. Substantively, this didn’t make a lot of sense — Democrats weren’t responsible for higher prices, and the GOP didn’t have a credible plan to address the issue — but Republicans were confident the approach would work wonders in the midterms.

At least, that was the plan. The Washington Post noted over the weekend that with eight weeks remaining before Election Day, the party’s focus is starting to shift.

About 1 in every 6 ads mentioned “gas prices” in July, but only 1 percent of ads mentioned the words in early September, according to AdImpact data. In their place, “crime” has become a central message of Republicans, with the word being used in 29 percent of ads, up from about 12 percent in July.

Steve Moore, a former economic adviser to Donald Trump, told the Post, “This is one of the things I’m telling Republicans: ‘Yes, inflation is high, but it is coming down.’ Inflation is not going to be like it was in March and April with huge increases, and I think broadening the message is going to be necessary.”

The problem for GOP campaigns is that reality keeps getting in the way. An Axios report added this morning, “Gasoline prices continue to tumble throughout the U.S., taking the starch out of the stiff rise in inflation and cheering up consumers.... Average national gasoline prices hit $5.02 a gallon back in June, amplifying the national fixation on inflation. According to AAA, a gallon of regular was an average of $3.74 on Friday, more than 25% lower than the June peak.”

Sure, Republicans could simply lie to voters and tell them that gas prices are still soaring to record highs, but that probably wouldn’t work: Americans know the truth every time they drive by a gas station or fill up their tank. There’s a limit as to how many times voters can be told, “Don’t believe your lying eyes.”

But as notable as the GOP’s shift in emphasis is, just as important is the degree to which the party is trading one bad faith line of attack for another. If the statistics cited in the Post’s report are accurate — the data hasn’t been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News — Republicans are dropping their talking points on gas prices, choosing instead to try and scare voters with an emphasis on crime.

Do Republicans have a credible plan to address crime rates? No. Is this even a federal issue? Not really. Do GOP talking points on the issue stand up well to meaningful scrutiny? Of course not. Is all of this weird given Republicans' increased hostility toward law enforcement? Actually, yes.

By all appearances, however, Republicans don’t appear to have much else to offer the electorate.