New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said inflation is going to be...

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said inflation is going to be "very exacerbated for the next few years” because only a fraction of the billions distributed to states has been spent. Credit: Getty Images for Concordia/Jon Cherry

President Joe Biden and his designated message-deliverers just got some crucial, last-minute insights — from a most unlikely source — Wednesday night. It made clear how they should be talking about the only issue that almost half of Americans say they really care about in this all-over-the-lot midterm campaign.

Yep, we are talking today about the issue you assumed Democratic strategist James Carville made unforgettable with his famous 1992 campaign warning: “It’s the economy, stupid.” And you probably assumed that even today’s change-resistant pols in high places would shift into rethink after a recent New York Times poll showed us that old campaign cockroach is still bugging us, big-time. Economy/Inflation was cited as the prime concern of whopping 44% of the poll’s respondents. (Comparison alert: Every other issue that has been massively covered by our news media was mentioned as the major concern by a mere 5% or fewer respondents.)

On Wednesday night, a welcome insight on how to handle that economy/inflation issue was served up on CNN by a sharp and assertive conservative Republican, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who of course never intended to help the Democrats. But it slipped by unnoticed and got quickly lost in the nightly gush that pours out of our Great News Funnels.

(Sununu deserves respect for having courageously refused to flock with the Trump sheep who publicly suck up to the former president by endorsing his disproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. But today we’re not talking about that Trump stuff.)

CNN’s ascending star, Jake Tapper, teed up Sununu’s appearance for viewers. Tapper noted that Republicans are claiming that Biden’s $5 trillion post-pandemic economic recovery plan had caused today’s inflation woes. He cited the warning to Biden by Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary and economist, Democrat Larry Summers, that “We're in more danger than we've been during my career of losing control of inflation in the U.S.” And the apologia of sorts by Biden Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen: “I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take.”

Then he interviewed Sununu, who began by championing the standard Republican attacks about Biden’s massive recovery plan fueling today’s inflation: “So look, everyone talks about the $5 trillion into the economy that has driven inflation, that's absolutely true. There's no doubt.”

But in the very next sentence, Sununu shifted into some essential context that is precisely the sort of thing his fellow Republicans hope you won’t think about at all.

“What a lot of people don't realize,” Sununu continued, is that “only a fraction has actually been spent. … The actual number of checks that have been cut is very minimal.” He added that the Biden rescue plan’s most sizable funding is “all designed infrastructure, all designed to be spent into '24, '25 and '26. And so inflation is going to be very exacerbated for the next few years.”

Time Out: Sununu is absolutely right. While, just about all of the $350 billion in available rescue funds has been distributed to states for spending by Sununu and his fellow governors, it hasn’t been spent yet. And so, the next time you hear Republicans claiming that today’s inflation crisis was fueled by a $5 trillion Biden program — and maybe tossing in words like “socialism” — remember Sununu’s true words. They disprove the politically exaggerated Republican campaign claims. Unfortunately, Sununu wasn’t asked to elaborate on that.

So what is the most powerful force that is fueling our present inflation crisis? Sununu got into that, just a bit, too. “Europe is in worse shape than America is, for goodness' sake."

And that brings up the essential truth that what we are confronting today is primarily a global inflation that was not just fueled but fired up by the global supply chain shutdown during the worst of the worldwide pandemic. Unfortunately, Sununu wasn’t asked to elaborate on that essential point either.

Also unfortunately, what has been missing in all this has been the visible showcasing of Biden working as a leader to reopen the global economy — and hopefully addressing those supply chain problems that fueled global inflation.

Meanwhile, the Biden White House has done a better job of visually showcasing the president’s efforts on those very infrastructure projects Republicans criticize as “inflationary” — except, of course, when a project is in their state or district.

On Thursday, Biden went to Pittsburgh to celebrate the rebuilding with federal funds of the Fern Hollow Bridge that had collapsed in January — just hours before Biden was due to visit the city.

“It’s being done in record time,” Biden said. “It normally takes two to five years to build a bridge like this.” Biden said he expects the new bridge will be finished “by Christmas, God willing. “I’m coming back to walk across this sucker.”

Perhaps the president will choose to make a symbolic event of that crossing. He could invite some of his Republican opponents to walk alongside him that day. And maybe he’ll even try for one more infrastructure project — a win-win plan for both sides to deep-six their political games and try, just once, to build a bipartisan bridge to prosperity.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.