Opinion | Trump just gave Biden the perfect excuse to revive a key point of attack

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 40,000 points Friday, after crossing that threshold Thursday for the first time in its 128-year history. President Joe Biden’s campaign spent the day gloating, particularly over former President Donald Trump’s prediction that the stock market would collapse under Biden. The victory lap was understandable: “Dow hits 40,000” can be added to “4% unemployment,” “15 million jobs created” and a host of other data points showing Biden’s economic record is far stronger than his presumptive opponent’s.

But as happy as Biden’s team is this week, news of the Dow’s record high doesn’t fix the re-election campaign’s biggest problem. Americans’ views of the Biden economy have remained dim. To fix that, the president will have to engage in some class warfare.

Of all the economic indicators that consume daily news, the stock market is the least reflective of most Americans’ fortunes. (More than 80% of Americans’ stock holdings belong to the wealthiest 10% of households.) It’s unlikely that a record stock market will change voters’ minds given that other metrics haven’t. After all, Americans’ dim views of the Biden economy have persisted even as other more widely relevant measures have held strong (job creation) or improved after earlier troubles (inflation).

Fortunately, the diagnosis remains relatively straightforward: Voters hate paying more for things. Speaking to The New Republic earlier this week, Biden campaign pollster Jefrey Pollack attributed the campaign’s polling deficit in key Midwestern states to “a lot of voters with real economic challenges. We all know that the No. 1 issue, when you ask people today, is still inflation or the economy.”

While the price trajectory for food, cars and other important goods has finally flattened out, rent and auto insurance continue to keep inflation data somewhat elevated. And Americans still understandably resent previous price increases earlier in Biden’s tenure. Plus, the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes have meant higher mortgage payments, car payments and other interest payments. Those higher costs aren’t reflected in inflation statistics, but still hammer low- and moderate-income Americans.

Unfortunately, Biden’s policy options are limited. Republican control of the House of Representatives closes off any legislation. And he can’t force the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates at its next meeting — even though it really should.

That leaves the powers of the presidency — more specifically, the bully pulpit. In late 2023 and early 2024, Biden gave several addresses, including the State of the Union, attacking “corporate greed” and “shrinkflation.” But since that well-received address, the president seems to have largely stepped back from such attacks.

That’s a mistake. Biden should hammer away at exploitative corporations for their role in squeezing Americans’ pocketbooks — and dare Trump to do the same, secure in the knowledge that he won’t.

Trump just gave Biden the perfect excuse to double down on this contrast. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that Trump asked oil executives for $1 billion; in exchange he would prioritize reversing Biden-era regulations on the industry. That news broke less than a week after the Federal Trade Commission published evidence that Scott Sheffield, founder of the shale giant Pioneer Oil, colluded with OPEC leaders to inflate oil prices. Pioneer, of course, denied the claims, as well as other price-fixing allegations in nearly a dozen recent class-action lawsuits.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have already announced an investigation into what senior Democratic member Rep. Jamie Raskin called “the effective sale of American energy and regulatory policy to commercial interests in return for large campaign contributions.” Biden should come out and endorse that effort, encourage Senate Democrats (who, unlike their House colleagues, have subpoena power) to join in the investigation, and announce that his administration is looking into allegations of price fixing in the energy industry.

From there, Biden can give further speeches and release more clips on social media highlighting and expanding his administration’s work against monopolies, oligopolies and price gouging. (These addresses could also dovetail nicely with warnings about Trump’s inflationary plan for a 10% across-the-board tariff.) The message is simple: Biden is fighting inflation, while Trump protects those who profit from it.

The data is on the president’s side. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that 34% of price increases from mid-2020 through 2022 could be attributed to corporations using pandemic-related disruptions as an excuse to raise prices. A 2023 study of more than 1,300 firms worldwide found that company profits increased at a much faster rate than costs (with fossil fuel companies being prime offenders).

And there are plenty of existing efforts by members of Biden’s administration on which the president can draw. The Justice Department, for example, is currently investigating anti-competitive practices at LiveNation (the parent company of Ticketmaster), Apple and RealPage, whose pricing software helps landlords set rents or, according to the DOJ, collude with each other to raise rents.

Voters are already receptive to this line of attack. A Financial Times-Michigan Ross survey earlier this month found that 60% of Americans faulted “large corporations taking advantage of inflation” for price increases, the only cause that a majority of respondents blamed. Even corporations are beginning to sense they’ve gone too far: After McDonald’s missed sales expectations in the first quarter, the fast-food behemoth recently announced a $5 meal deal to lure back customers scared off by higher prices. And unlike many issues, both Democratic and Republican voters are hostile to corporate monopolies.

Beyond the political benefits, shining a light on inflation’s true causes and other anti-consumer practices can produce surprising results. While the power of the various business lobbies in Washington cannot be overstated, that power, much like a mushroom, thrives in the dark. In April, the Department of Transportation finalized a rule mandating automatic cash refunds for air passengers if their flight is canceled without a rebooking. The airline lobby swiftly got language placed in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization undercutting the new rule. But after journalists at The Lever caught the new language, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., (who hardly see eye to eye on anything) amended the bill to codify the DOT rule into law.

Of course, business leaders won’t take kindly to Biden calling them out. Perhaps some potential donors will even withhold their contributions. But that should not worry the president — and not just because he already has a robust fundraising lead.

Almost 90 years ago, just before the 1936 election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to a packed house in New York’s Madison Square Garden about the accomplishments of his first term. Those four years had brought the country a revolution in both public works and regulation and brought Roosevelt the hatred of many business and finance leaders. “Never before have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,” he told the audience. “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” Roosevelt won an even bigger landslide that year than he had in 1932.

Now it is Biden’s turn to welcome that hatred — and show voters that the same people who’ve been skimming Americans’ pocketbooks for years want Donald Trump back in the White House.

This article was originally published on MSNBC.com