Inflation costly

Republicans ride soaring prices to moderate midterm success

Sam McVey, Editor-in-Chief

While the full results of this midterm election season are not yet clear, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives for the latter half of President Biden’s first term. While the swing wasn’t as resounding as some pundits foresaw, it’s likely that inflation helped the GOP ensure the return of a divided government.

The rate of inflation peaked in June of 2022, surpassing nine percent. And while that figure has somewhat cooled since the summer months — October’s consumer price index (CPI) showed a rate of 7.75 percent — rising price levels remain uncomfortably high for consumers.

For Democrats, the stakes of these elections were high: if they could hold the House of Representatives and expand their razor-thin Senate majority, it would open the door for the abolition of the filibuster and the advancement of President Biden’s legislative agenda, including an assault weapons ban and codifying Roe v. Wade.

Rising prices, however, stood in the way. In their quest to make these elections a referendum on Biden’s unpopular handling of the economy, Republicans blasted Democrats’ policies as fiscally irresponsible and the primary cause of our unusually high inflation rates.

The actual causes of inflation, of course, are more nuanced. While policy may be a contributing factor, post-pandemic demand has surged faster than the supply chain could keep up, causing bottlenecks at ports and naturally raising prices.

Jerome Powell, the Trump-appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve — the apolitical institution tasked with managing inflation — admitted that the bank was too slow in raising interest rates to counteract inflation.

Further, international cooperation — or a lack thereof — has made an unfortunate situation worse. Recently, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed to modestly cut oil production in the Middle East, despite lobbying efforts from President Biden and other western leaders to accelerate production. Meanwhile, Ukraine, as it fights to repel unprovoked Russian attacks, is no longer capable of reliably producing exports for U.S. consumption.

Some of these factors were largely unavoidable. But, in politics, optics are what really matter, and exit polling data suggests that conservatives’ branding of these developments as the “Biden Economy” worked: an ABC News exit poll found that 80% of voters considered the economy their top issue, with the large majority referring to inflation.

Consequently, current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is likely headed towards a promotion to Speaker. It’s a disappointing, but not unexpected, result for Democrats, who will look to ease the pain of likely losing the House by encouraging victories elsewhere in the Senate and state governor offices.

Democrats knew this was an uphill battle, but it was one they didn’t give up on — and rightfully so. Abortion rights powered Democratic turnout and contributed to several key triumphs, including Pennsylvania’s election of Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) to represent the state in the Senate, Josh Shapiro (D) as governor of Pennsylvania,  and the re-election of vulnerable Democratic governors in the Rust Belt.

Further, stressing the danger of election-denying Republican candidates seemed to prevent a so-called “red wave,” as a Bloomberg analysis found that Trump loyalists underperformed their moderate Republican counterparts nationwide.

The mixed results of these midterms will have both parties claiming victory, but it’s safe to say that inflation helped Republicans avoid what would’ve been an otherwise disastrous performance.

Knowing this, Democrats will work tirelessly to address the concern ahead of the all-important 2024 presidential election.

But how much can they do, especially in what is shaping up to be a gridlocked Congress?

That remains to be seen.