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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Inflation, rising crime and the border surge are positioning Republicans for even bigger midterm gains than they'd imagined just months ago.

Why it matters: President Biden has preached bipartisanship. Strident Democrats are pushing for hard-left positions enacted through their control of Congress and the White House. But the daily headlines are boosting the GOP's arguments as it seeks to regain control of at least one chamber in 2022.

  • One early salvation for Democrats — their handling of the coronavirus pandemic — is turning into a liability as the Delta variant threatens school reopenings, a return to mask mandates and a new wave of shutdowns.
  • "This administration has mismanaged the economy, mismanaged the border, mismanaged crime in the cities, and people are noticing and are very disturbed by it. Take a look at any of the poll numbers," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told Axios.
  • Barrasso said he circulated internal polling data on these issues during a conference meeting last Tuesday. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Axios his group's internal polling shows similar results.

What to watch: These issues are dominating headlines as members of Congress are heading home to campaign in their districts during the August recess.

  • At the forefront is the Democrats' plan to use their majorities to pass a $3.5 trillion "soft" infrastructure bill on top of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan "hard" infrastructure bill.
  • The monster spending is really resonating with voters — in a bad way, spokesmen for the GOP's House and Senate campaign arms tell Axios.
  • Both organizations say this should be the No. 1 issue Republicans talk about over August break.

The Washington Post's Paul Kane reported Saturday that Democrats are being sent home "with just three bullet points: middle-class tax cuts; an infrastructure plan to create jobs; and lower health-care costs."

  • "Republicans have spent the last six months peddling the same extremist rhetoric that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection and spreading COVID disinformation," said Chris Taylor, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
  • "Our bet is that voters know they can count on Democrats to deliver for their families.”

At-risk Democrats are already starting to worry their messaging isn't sticking, though.

  • Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the DCCC, was quoted by CNN last week as saying, “If the election were held today, we would lose."

What they're saying: “Every single American is paying higher prices for everyday goods because of Democrats’ reckless spending," NRCC spokesman Mike Berg told Axios in a statement.

  • His comments are backed up by internal surveys showing how fearful Americans are of the rising costs of health care and daily goods.

Rising crime is also increasingly gaining national attention. One study found a 16% spike in homicides in large U.S. cities for the first half of 2021 compared to 2020, which was already up more than 30% from the year before.

  • Republicans aim to tie this to progressive cries to "defund the police" last year.

In addition, there's has been relatively low public support for the president's handling of immigration — a critical issue especially with moderate, border Democrats like Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas).

  • Government data to be released this month is expected to show another record month at the border for July.

Go deeper

GOP burned by BIF

Rep. Blake Moore, who complains, "I think there's been irreparable damage done." Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

As Democrats haggle over the final details of their nearly $2 trillion social spending bill, Republicans are venting frustration — with key moderates still wavering over whether to back the companion $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Why it matters: If progressives don't actually drop their demand to have the social bill passed before they agree to a vote on the infrastructure bill, the $1.2 trillion roads and bridges package remains in limbo without Republicans backfilling support for it.

Trump stars in both sides' ads

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios; Screenshots: Republican super PAC (top), Democratic Governors Association (bottom)

Donald Trump is a TV star again — in political ads being run by both parties.

Why it matters: Records show millions of dollars have been spent on ads invoking Trump's name nearly a year after he lost his re-election campaign. It's more evidence of how polarizing and motivating a figure the former president remains for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Some Jan. 6 witnesses spill for investigators

Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Jan. 6 Select Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Steve Bannon's refusal to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 Select Committee overshadows the fact that other key witnesses are providing reams of evidence to investigators.

Why it matters: Four years of investigative stonewalling by the Trump administration had a demoralizing effect on Democrats, leaving the impression congressional accountability is a pipe dream. The quiet compliance shows a committee investigation is still feared — and has some clout.