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2022 will pit a Democratic economic pitch against GOP culture wars

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden speaks about jobs and the economy at the White House on April 7, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks about jobs and the economy at the White House on April 7, 2021.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON — We are still 578 days away from Election Day 2022, but we already have a good idea of what the battle lines will be.

Democrats are concentrating on the economy and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, while Republicans are fixated on the culture wars.

And the midterms will be a fascinating political experiment to see what message resonates more with American voters.

Democrats are already betting the house — and continued control of the U.S. House — on the $1,400 checks to voters, the number of vaccinated Americans, the state of the unemployment rate (now down to 6.0 percent) and the expectation that American society, the economy and schools will all be humming by next year after the pandemic.

Republicans, meanwhile, have gone all-in on culture — whether it’s criticizing the “canceling” of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head; opposing vaccine passports; suing the CDC to allow cruise ships to resume business in the pandemic; concentrating on immigration and borders; and leaning more into President Biden’s executive orders on guns than they ever did his Covid-19 relief package.

“It just infringes on our Second Amendment rights. It infringes on law-abiding Americans who exercise that right lawfully every day,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said on Fox News about Biden’s executive action on so-called “ghost guns” that are assembled from kits and have no serial numbers.

Writing in The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last perfectly distills this culture-vs.-economy contrast between the two parties.

“Republican voters," he writes, "no longer have any concrete outcomes that they want from government. What they have, instead, is a lifestyle brand. And if you want to move up the ladder within a brand network, you don’t do it by governing or making policy. You do it by getting attention."

More Last: “Democrats continue to comport themselves as if they exist in a real political economy—a real world where they will be judged by voters on the outcomes of their actual policy choices. Meanwhile Republicans operate according to the rules of the attention economy.

“In 2022 and 2024 these two theories of the electorate will be tested against one another.”

And Last raises an important question for a policy-focused Democratic Party: What happens if they can’t beat a GOP that’s all but abandoned policy, the economy and the state of the pandemic recovery?

The center on guns and gun control has vanished

Speaking of the debate on guns and Biden’s executive actions yesterday, here’s another question to ponder: How can a divided Washington even find the center on guns when Republicans believe that trying to curb “ghost guns” is an infringement of 2nd Amendment rights?

If you think what Biden announced yesterday is radical, then everything else – background checks, automatic weapons, registration lists – becomes impossible for a divided Washington to even consider.

The conversation on guns has so shifted, and the parties are farther away than they’ve ever been.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

$60 million: How much the federal government is reportedly spending per week to care for unaccompanied minors at the border.

463: The number of votes for unionizing at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama as of last night, when counting paused.

1,100: The number of votes against unionizing, so far.

31,135,895: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 81,484 more than yesterday morning.)

564,192: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,108 more than yesterday morning.)

174,879,716: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

18.5 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated.

20: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

Tweet of the day

Shameless plug

Don’t miss the start of the second season of “Meet the Press Reports.” In our first episode, Chuck and the team tackle the issue of extremism in America. You can watch it on demand over on Peacock here.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The CDC says racism is a “serious threat” to public health.

Matt Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg is likely to plead guilty.

Florida lawmakers have backtracked on legislative language that threatened to ban giving food or water to people standing in line to vote.

Former House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t hold back criticism of the post-Trump GOP in his new book.

Dam safety advocates want more from Biden’s infrastructure bill.

The New York Times takes a look at the Virginia governor’s race.

The former daughter-in-law of Trump executive Allen Weisselberg has handed over boxes of documents to prosecutors.

Not every Democratic lawmaker in Georgia was happy with Biden weighing in on the MLB debate.