Politico: The real issue in this lousy economy is all the Republican pouncing to come, you know

Old and busted: “It’s the economy, stupid!” New hotness: “It’s the Republicans pouncing on the economy, stupid!” With the economy grinding to a stall and inflation roaring, Politico reports that the big issue facing voters will be … all of the attack ads Republicans will run against Democrats over it:

The U.S. economy is growing at its slowest pace since the recovery began. Faster inflation is likely to linger well into next year. Millions remain unemployed even as small businesses struggle to hire workers.

All of that is … bad, right? On its own, as a measure of how current policies are impacting American families? Perhaps, but Politico’s Megan Cassella’s first thoughts go to this:

And Republicans are readying attacks on President Joe Biden over all of it.

GOP lawmakers and strategists are seizing on news Thursday that the economy expanded at an anemic pace in the third quarter to slam Biden and the Democrats, accusing them of bungling the recovery from the pandemic recession and then piling on trillions of dollars in spending programs.

Seizing! Readying attacks! Cassella leaves out the word “pounce,” but the principle here is clear. The issue isn’t that the economy has actually slowed to a crawl in Q3 (-0.1% in final sales of domestic product). It’s not that the inflation that Republicans warned would happen in the debate over the COVID-19 relief packages and unemployment bonuses has actually materialized. The news isn’t that Democrats want to actually pile trillions of more dollars in spending programs in off-budget projects that will help fuel even more inflation.

No, the news is that Republicans will, er … make an issue of the economy in 2022’s midterms:

Republicans plan to put economic issues front and center in the 2022 midterm campaigns by highlighting the soaring price of gasoline and some groceries and blaming Democrats for driving up inflation. It’s a double-barreled attack designed to zero in on the pain American consumers are feeling while ginning up opposition to legislation that Biden is hoping will become the linchpin of his economic agenda.

Color me stunned, stunned that economics will be a big issue in the midterms. Don’t both parties put economic issues front and center in every political campaign? Economic issues are routinely the highest priority for voters. Ever since James Carville made economic issues the entire focus of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign — in which Clinton “pounced” and “seized” on a small recession that had already ended by the time the election came around — politicians of all stripes have taken Carville’s advice to heart.

Just last year, Joe Biden made his “Build Back Better” economic plan the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Biden criticized Trump’s economic policies continuously, especially the tax cuts in the 2017 Senate reconciliation bill, and droned on endlessly about economic inequality that allegedly resulted from them. In fact, Biden is still “seizing” on those tax cuts.

So what’s the difference? Two points: first, these economic issues are real, and second, they’re the outcome of a Democratic administration. When Republican economic policies are in place, the outcomes are the story. When Democrats make economic policy, the Republican reaction to the outcomes is always, always the big story and the context in which those outcomes are framed.