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The nagging detail about the GOP’s polling advantage on inflation

Voters seem to think Republicans know what to do about inflation. That’s not even close to being true.


As this year’s midterm elections draw closer — Election Day is 27 weeks from tomorrow — Republicans have reason for optimism. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll points to one of the key reasons why.

More than 9 in 10 Americans say they are concerned, at minimum, about the rate of inflation, which has been at a 40-year high in recent months. That includes 44 percent who categorize themselves as “upset.” ... On inflation, 50 percent say they trust the GOP more compared with 31 percent who say that of the Democrats.

That 19-point advantage the GOP enjoys on the issue of inflation is roughly in line with the latest  NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, which showed Republicans leading Democrats on the issue by 21 points.

All of which leads to a relevant detail that’s often overlooked: If voters think Republicans know what do about inflation, they’re likely to be deeply disappointed.

NBC News’ Sahil Kapur, for example, last week asked Sen. Joni Ernst about her plan to address the economic issue on the minds of many American consumers. The Iowa Republican responded, “Stop spending federal money and then start investing in American innovation and energy.”

In other words, to reduce inflation, Ernst wants to spend less and spend more.

Two weeks earlier, Donald Trump was asked on Fox News what he’d do to address inflation if he were in the White House. He gave a long, meandering, and wildly dishonest answer, which didn’t even try to address the question.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, it was last fall when Sen. Rick Scott accidentally told The Wall Street Journal what he was actually thinking. Looking ahead to the next round of elections, the Florida Republican, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, seemed a little eager to celebrate inflation. “This is a gold mine for us,” the senator said.

The obvious problem was that elected officials aren’t supposed to be happy about economic conditions that hurt the public. Scott’s “gold mine” rhetoric made him sound less like someone looking out for Americans’ interests and more like The Simpsons’ C. Montgomery Burns.

But just as notable was the fact that Scott’s party still doesn’t have much in the way of actual policy ideas related to inflation, the Floridian’s glee notwithstanding. NBC News reported last fall, “[B]eyond blocking Biden’s wide-ranging social safety net and climate action plan ... how the GOP would tackle a notoriously difficult economic trend is less clear.”

The report added that much of the GOP’s plan — to the extent that anyone can credibly call it a “plan” — would have “little effect or no effect in addressing the cause of increased costs or would not materially affect the economy for years.”

That was in late November. Six months later, very little has changed.

There’s no great mystery behind the GOP’s strategy: It’s rooted in the idea that Americans are upset about something; Democrats hold the reins of federal power; so voters should blame the governing majority. It doesn’t matter whether it makes sense or whether Republicans have meaningful solutions.

To be sure, that strategy might very well work. Incumbent parties are routinely blamed for things they have little control over. Republican incumbents and candidates will effectively tell voters, “We’re upset about what you’re upset about,” and that could prove to be enough.

But that doesn’t mean the underlying problem will be addressed.

The possible good news, at least for consumers, is that there’s a growing number of economic analysts who believe inflation may have peaked. CNBC published a report late last week quoting Andrew Hunter, the senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, who said the latest evidence suggests inflation “is starting to ease.” He added that Capital Economics’ view is that inflation “will fall a little more quickly this year than Fed officials now appear to expect.”

A week earlier, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also said she believes inflation may have peaked in the first quarter. Watch this space.