If political fortunes rise or fall on “the economy, stupid,” as Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville said in 1992, then Democrats could be in big trouble this year.

With inflation remaining at 40-year highs, Republicans hope to make President Joe Biden into Jimmy Carter when he was confronted with the same problem. Unlike Carter, who was thrashed by Ronald Reagan, Biden isn’t running in November. Yet voters may similarly punish the president indirectly.

Wait …

The national unemployment rate was 3.5% in September, the most recent month for which data are available. That’s better than where economists place “full employment” and as good as January 2020, before the pandemic. Carter faced an unemployment rate twice as high. Biden is on track to preside over the strongest economic growth since Clinton, whose time in office was the longest expansion in modern U.S. history.

It may not matter. Voters in polls from the Pew Research Center list the economy as a top concern, specifically inflation. This gives Republicans the chance to not only gain control of the House of Representatives but generate a “red wave” that threatens blue states, even Oregon.

In Washington, Sen. Patty Murray enjoyed an 8-point lead over Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley in the most recent polling. It’s uncomfortable enough for a long-term incumbent that Democratic big guns such as Vice President Kamala Harris have come to help energize the base.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, can get away with the disastrous gaffe calling for negotiation with Vladimir Putin over invading Ukraine (the letter that was hastily withdrawn, blamed on staff). Neville Chamberlain 2.0 from Seattle’s congresswoman? Never you mind. Jayapal is safe.


But if the worst predictions for Democrats come to pass, they may be left next year with only blue islands in the House such as Seattle. They might lose the Senate, too. And this paves the way for a Trump comeback or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis winning the presidency in 2024.

All this is particularly true if the Federal Reserve ratchets up interest rates so high that it brings on a recession during Biden’s term.

In reality, inflation is a global phenomenon. Its causes include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cutting off grain shipments; sanctions against Russia raising energy prices in Europe, which depends on Moscow’s natural gas; and the Saudis raising oil prices. Inflation was also rising because of clogs in supply chains and China shutting down pandemic hot spots, raising the price of imports.

Big corporations have taken advantage of inflation to jack up prices.

Writing on the Project Syndicate blog, economist Dambisa Moyo argued that “deglobalization” has shattered the low labor and production costs of recent decades, making inflation a semipermanent fixture.


She wrote: “heightened geopolitical tensions threaten to make higher input costs a fixture of a deglobalizing world. While the cross-border movement of goods, capital, and people characterized the globalized economy of the past three decades, the growing Sino-American rivalry could be a harbinger of an era marked by a widening ideological divide and a balkanized global economy.”

In addition, “Barriers to migration would make it harder for U.S. companies to attract top global talent and drive up labor costs.”

The Federal Reserve is uniquely positioned to fight inflation, but the central banks of industrialized countries are not coordinating their actions — again, keeping inflation high globally.

For what it’s worth, Fed Chair Jerome Powell, a Trump appointee, is a former investment banker, not an economist like his recent predecessors.

Inflation can only marginally be blamed on moves by the Biden administration to invest in infrastructure, attack climate change and cap prescription drug prices.

Republican control of the House and even the Senate won’t make things better.


The typical GOP prescription of tax cuts for the rich and corporations will arguably make inflation worse by increasing demand.

“It is unlikely that any of the policies proposed by Republicans would meaningfully reduce inflation in 2023, when rapidly rising prices will still be a major problem for the economy and for consumers,” Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told The New York Times earlier this month.

Meanwhile, today’s GOP is very different from the one that saw Reagan defeat Carter in 1980. It’s stuffed with election deniers, conspiracy theorists and Trump supporters. Even staunch conservatives such as Wyoming’s Rep. Liz Cheney have been pushed aside for challenging the cult of Donald Trump.

Majorities of Americans are wise to worry about our democracy even as they seem prepared to vote in a party that’s hostile to it.

Interestingly, voters blamed President Herbert Hoover and Republicans for the Great Depression, and they didn’t regain the White House for another 20 years. Republicans gave us long wars of choice after 9/11 (warnings were ignored by President George W. Bush), the Great Recession and Donald Trump. But they keep coming back as strong as ever.

My 2 cents are that Democrats’ biggest problems have little to do with the economy, although Americans’ love of driving and cheap gasoline are paramount, never mind the cost to the climate.


Democrats are seen as soft on crime, eager to defund the police and unable to address homelessness, despite spending billions of taxpayer dollars.

Many white people see Democrats as favoring people of color (the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory), something fueling the Ohio Senate campaign of J.D. Vance. He wrote the bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy,” which touches on the abandonment of poor white people — even though he has a law degree from Yale and worked as a venture capitalist.

Is it only the economy? Ignoring the larger landscape would be stupid.