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Losing on economy, Democrats decide to… talk up economy

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US President Joe Biden has changed tack two weeks before midterms election day with a new focus on the economy./AFP
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Oct 26, 2022 - 09:40 AM

WASHINGTON — Democrats fear a pounding in the midterms largely due to discontent over the US economy. So how is President Joe Biden marking the last two weeks before voting day?

By boasting about the economy.

“Democrats are building a better America for everyone with an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out, where everyone does well,” Biden told party activists Monday in what he called his “closing argument.”

Republicans — they’re the ones who “will crash the economy,” he said.

The message is a surprise switch for Democrats after months in a defensive crouch over inflation, an unstable stock market, and housing price jitters.

It’s almost as if someone in the White House has been reading Sun tzu’s “Art of War,” where the master strategist from ancient China advised generals to “appear where you are not expected.”

Democrats previously seemed to hope they could bypass the economy.

Briefly over the summer it appeared that passions around abortion rights and alarming details about Donald Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election might take up voters’ attention.

There were even heady predictions that Democrats would reverse the historical norms of parties losing midterms when they control the White House.

But steady Republican messaging, centered on blaming Biden for the highest inflation in four decades, brought the election back to its default setting. As Democratic strategist James Carville famously said all the way back in 1992: it’s “the economy, stupid.”

And that makes the new Biden closing argument all the bolder.

Populist message 

Biden wants Democrats to acknowledge voters’ current fears and argue that huge investments in infrastructure and climate change response and semiconductor manufacturing have laid the ground for a bright future.

What’s new is that he is also now doubling down on a populist message that Democrats are looking after poorer Americans, while a Republican Congress would give the rich tax breaks, then slash social spending for the poor.

“What congressional Republicans want to do is take that all away,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

This dire picture of what Biden calls “mega-MAGA trickle-down economics” — in reference to Trump’s far-right MAGA political movement — is based on suggestions by Republican leaders that once in charge of Congress they could cut usually untouchable programs like social security in order to control the vast national debt.

Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to be the Republican speaker of the House if Republicans win next month, says he’d be ready to risk a US debt default if that’s what it takes to force spending cuts.

For Republicans, that’s in line with their brand of conservative fiscal responsiblity.

Biden, though, sees a giant political target.

“We, the Democrats, are the ones that are fiscally responsible. Let’s get that straight now, okay?” he said Monday. “If you’re worried about the economy, you need to know this Republican leadership in Congress has made it clear they will crash the economy.”

Best, ‘last’ chance 

Dan Pfeiffer, a former advisor to Barack Obama, calls shifting blame on the economy to the Republicans the “best (and last) shot” to seize back the narrative.

Only touting the party’s big ticket achievements, like the infrastructure bill, is “tone deaf,” Pfeiffer said. Democrats have to accept that “people are pissed” about kitchen table issues.

Well-known Democratic strategist Mike Lux is likewise telling the party to stop running from its problems on the economy.

“Inflation will beat us if we avoid the issue or are embarrassed about it,” he wrote.

Whether any of this will help Democrats stave off defeat is impossible to tell. Many key Senate and House races are predicted to be close and the new Cook Political Report ratings Tuesday showed Republican gains in the House steadily growing.

The campaign has been given a jolt, but it may take more Sun tzu to get that elusive victory.

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