President Biden has spent months playing defense on the economy, at times over-explaining inflation as he’s sought to put the blame on supply chain issues and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
But with less than three months until the midterm elections, political observers say he can turn around his economic messaging woes with a four-letter word: jobs.
“It’s truly the greatest jobs market in the history of our country,” said Tony Fratto, an economic policy consultant who served as deputy press secretary during the George W. Bush White House. “It’s a rip-roaring jobs market.”
“They cannot win on inflation because it’s there and people are upset about it so if you can’t win the argument, change the subject,” said Fratto, who also took to Twitter to blast the advice to the White House. “It’s communications 101. … And this isn’t that hard to do. These are alley-oop dunks.”
One Democratic strategist agreed with Fratto’s assessment, explaining that Biden should be leading every speech with that message.
“They’ve butchered the narrative on this,” the strategist said. “Why not build some events around this ASAP? Kick off every speech with it. Put it on billboards. Shout it from the rooftops. Everything and anything.”
Biden has been working to finalize congressional approval of a measure on taxes, health care and climate called the Inflation Reduction Act, which Democrats say will be helpful in the long term.
The fact that the deal came together and was approved by the Senate on Sunday is part of a hot streak of sorts for the president, who has seen gas prices fall while racking up a series of legislative wins.
On Wednesday, a labor report showed that while inflation remains high on an annual basis, consumer prices remained the same from June to July. Biden, in speech at the White House, said it demonstrated “some signs that inflation may be beginning to moderate.”
“People were still hurting, but zero inflation last month,” he said.
The developments are all positive news and fantastic timing for Democrats who have been worried about the midterm elections. A Reuters-Ipsos poll even showed Biden’s approval rating rising two points to 40 percent.
Still, Biden acknowledged in his Wednesday remarks that more work needs to be done. And he has struggled to win the support of Americans, particularly when it comes to economic issues.
A CNN poll showed that 30 percent of respondents approve of Biden’s handling of the economy and just 25 percent approve of his handling of inflation. The poll showed that 75 percent of those surveyed said inflation and cost of living was the most important economic issue to their families — an increase of more than 30 percent since last summer.
Republicans have tried to dominate the narrative, seeking to blame Biden ahead of the midterm elections for the rising costs.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) on Wednesday sent out a press release portraying the president as an out of touch leader who isn’t concerned about record-high inflation.
“Biden: Let them eat cake,” a press release read.
Emma Vaughn, a RNC spokesperson, told The Hill that Biden and Democrats “cannot message themselves out of their failed agenda.”
“Democrats are raising taxes on families during a recession while gas prices are skyrocketing and inflation is at historic highs,” Vaughn said. “Because of Biden and Democrats’ failures, Americans are suffering and will vote them out in November.”
Democrats say the White House simply needs to step up its messaging on the economy.
“I think the administration of government and policy has never been a problem for the administration,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “The president and his team need to stick the landing on messaging. Tell a story that shows that government is working and making lives better during a hard time.”
Kenneth Baer, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Obama White House’s Office of Management and Budget, cautioned that Biden should tread lightly on the jobs numbers.
“I would add that in the mix carefully,” Baer said. “There is a challenge in that this one economic indicator is very positive while others — inflation for one — are not.
“Most importantly, people’s perceptions of the economy are that it’s bad and getting worse,” he said. “You need to address that, not argue that this perception is wrong.”
At the same time, Baer said, Biden and all Democrats should continue to reiterate the highlights of the Inflation Reduction Act, including lowering prescription drug, health insurance and energy costs.
While Biden has touted the legislation, he also warned on Wednesday that his administration could face headwinds that are out of his control.
“Now I want to be clear, with the global challenges we face, from the war in Europe to disruption of supply chains and pandemic shutdowns in Asia, we could face additional headwinds in the months ahead,” Biden said. “Our work is far from over.”