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Jan. 26, 2022, 6:00 a.m. EST

Republicans need an economic agenda for the midterm elections

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By Peter Morici

Wokeism and progressive overreach helped propel  conservative values  in the 2021 elections, but cultural issues won’t grip as reliably for Republicans in the midterms.

Virginia  exit polls  indicated the economy was still the most important issue, but state and municipal politicians can do little more than steal jobs from other jurisdictions with generous incentives and rearrange who pays local taxes—Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin  promised to ax the regressive tax on groceries .

The social issues that helped boost his campaign, a near miss for the Republican in New Jersey, and renaissance of reason about public safety in New York and  Minneapolis  are matters where state and local officials could turn things around—what’s taught and academic standards in public schools, street crime, and funding for the police.

Work-from-home and remote schooling  offered parents an alarming window into how the American story and  race   relations  are taught in public schools and  parents voted for change .

Youngkin’s success was mirrored across the nation in  school-board elections .

The going gets tough

Now it gets tough for Republicans in Virginia and conservatives elsewhere. Progressive values are deeply entrenched among  school administrators  and  teachers unions . Just like President Donald Trump in 2016, Youngkin’s team will face a tough struggle altering the values and actions of bureaucrats.

At the national level, congressmen and senators vote on what really matters for economic conditions in their locale.

Congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy and the broader Republican Party must recognize that the courts, at the states’ provocations, will most influence abortionimmigration  and  election reform  until Republicans can win the presidency and Congress together or attain veto-proof majorities in both houses.

In 2022, those are not attainable, and Republican congressional candidates should hew to conservative cultural values but mostly focus on the economy. More specifically, discredit the potentially degrading effects of the Democrats’ efforts to expand the welfare state and offer alternatives.

With small recurring swings  Republicans and Democrats run about even among voters on party affiliation  but about two-fifths call themselves independent.

Perceptions of economic conditions are  irrationally fused to party loyalty . In October 2020, 55% of Republicans thought the economy was improving whereas 67% of Democrats said it was getting worse. As soon as Joe Biden became president, those numbers flipped, and similar patterns go back to the Obama presidency.

According to a University of Michigan survey, Republicans expect inflation to be 6.8% for 2022, while Democrats anticipate 3%—they both can’t be right.

Conditions on the ground

Consequently, conditions on the ground—as perceived by moderate white and minority swing voters—will matter most. This comes down to winning  suburban   womenHispanics  and Asians that moved markedly toward the  Republican camp for Youngkin .

If the election were held today, the Republican Party would be in great shape, because  the Delta variant growth , and now  Omicron, are slowing the recovery , inflation is ripping  and  school lunch programs  and  grocery shelves  are short of domestically-produced items.

As Omicron subsides, President Biden’s infrastructure spending and the  trillions in stimulus dollars remaining in household  and  business checkbooks  will boost demand. Inflation of 4% or 5% would still be too high but a darn sight better than the 6% or 7% now feared.

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