With two weeks to go in the midterm election cycle, Republican officials and candidates are heavily focused on inflation, which makes a lot of sense: Polls show it’s a top concern among voters nationwide, and the GOP is likely to benefit greatly from public frustrations over higher prices.
But hanging overhead is a question the party has struggled to answer: What exactly do Republicans plan to do about inflation?
CNN’s Pamela Brown pressed Sen. Roy Blunt on this yesterday. “What exactly is the Republican plan, then?” the host asked. “What should Republicans do differently? You know, it’s one thing to blame the Democrats and say, ‘Yes, inflation is high, there are rising prices.’ It’s another to say, ‘And here’s the solution.” What is that solution from Republicans?”
The retiring GOP senator, who’s also a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, replied:
“Oh I think a lot of this, uh, really, stabilize the economy. The American people aren’t fooled by this and they’re going to hold the Democrats responsible — whether the Democrats want to like that or not. I think they are responsible. The American voters’ [are] gonna hold them responsible Election Day. I think there’s no question Republicans will gain control of the House, and in a very narrow environment, just as likely as not to gain control of the Senate. But we still won’t have control of the administration and bad regulatory policies and bad energy policies will continue to stoke what’s now a fire of inflation.”
Right off the bat, the idea that Republicans intend to address inflation by “stabilizing the economy” is a curious pitch given that the party appears determined to do the opposite.
But just as important was the disconnect between the question and the answer. The CNN host suggested that it’s not enough to simply blame Democrats, and instead asked Blunt to explain what Republicans intend to offer by way of solutions. The GOP senator responded by blaming Democrats, making an election prediction, and offering very little in the way of solutions.
In fairness, according to the network transcript, at other points in the interview, Blunt also talked about new energy policies, which appeared to be largely in line with what the Biden administration has already done. The Missourian also criticized the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, which was odd, given that the Inflation Reduction Act didn’t increase inflation.
The bottom line, however, appeared unavoidable: Pressed for answers about the GOP plan, Blunt didn’t have much to offer.
He has plenty of company. A couple of months ago, NBC News’ Chuck Todd asked Republican Rep. Andy Barr — the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee’s panel on monetary policy — the same question. “Let me ask you this: What is your plan to deal with inflation?” the “Meet the Press” host asked. “What is the Republican plan to deal with inflation — other than not supporting Joe Biden policies? ... What is the proactive agenda here?”
The GOP congressman responded, “Well, we have a positive agenda. We have a commitment to America, and we’re going to get back to basics.”
Barr then peddled a variety of hollow talking points, referencing illicit drugs, border security, a border wall, the terrorist watch list, the IRS, and oil drilling. Those waiting for the Kentucky congressman to get around to answering the question — “What is the Republican plan to deal with inflation?” — were left wanting.
Barr didn’t come right out and say his party doesn’t have a plan — that wouldn’t have been a politic answer — but he also left little doubt that his party doesn’t have a plan.
As we discussed soon after, this keeps happening. Donald Trump was asked on Fox News in April 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 midterm elections, the Florida Republican, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, seemed a little too 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 nearly a year ago. As Election Day approaches, very little has changed. When President Joe Biden insists that Republicans “have no plan” to address inflation, he’s not wrong.