Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the crowd during a town hall on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (CNN)

The Republican presidential candidates are on the same page regarding Joe Biden: He’s a disaster on inflation, immigration, and crime.  

“We have no borders. We have inflation. We have everything going wrong,” said Donald Trump in Georgia on Saturday, in his apocalyptic fashion. He also pledged to “stop the crime wave” because “everybody is being murdered.” 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis began his campaign alongside Twitter owner Elon Musk last month by declaring, “Our southern border [has] collapsed. Drugs are pouring into the country. Our cities are being hollowed out by spiking crime. The federal government’s making it harder for the average family to make ends meet and to attain and maintain a middle-class lifestyle … Stop pricing hardworking Americans out of a good standard of living through inflationary borrow, print, and spending policies.” 

Former Vice President Mike Pence, running a distant third in the averages of national primary polls, began a CNN-hosted town hall event with the pithy critique: “Literally, we have a crisis at our border. We have inflation at a 40-year high. We have a crime wave in our cities.” As did Trump and DeSantis, Pence suggested Biden’s border policies are to blame for “a flood of fentanyl coming into every city.” 

There’s one problem with this Republican portrayal of a Democratic president presiding over chaos: None of it is true.  

Inflation was at a 40-year high. During 2022, the inflation rate started at 7.5 percent, peaked in June at 9.1 percent, and ended the year at 6.5 percent, a mark that hadn’t been cleared since June 1982.  

But 2023 is a different story. The inflation rate for May is down to 4 percent, less than half of the June 2022 peak. But even back in March, when it fell to 5 percent, the “40-year high” talking point was obsolete. In July 2008, during the George W. Bush administration, inflation was 5.6 percent. And in October and November 1990, during the George H. W. Bush administration, it was 6.3 percent.  

Has southern border security collapsed? Hardly. Unlawful entries have dropped by 70 percent in the last few weeks, according to the Department of Homeland Security, after Biden implemented a new border management policy.  

Now, that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Border crossings spiked just before Biden ended “Title 42,” the public health emergency rules that Trump enacted in 2020, using the COVID-19 pandemic to expedite the removal of asylum-seekers. So, the recent, steep drop is from a higher-than-usual amount.  

Nevertheless, many skeptics of Biden’s plan (which I detailed last month) assumed that the end of Title 42 would prompt a surge of migrants. The opposite happened. 

If the current pace of border crossings—about 3,700 per day—remains stable throughout June, the monthly total would be 111,000, the lowest of the Biden presidency and well below Biden’s peak of 302,000 last December, albeit somewhat higher than the 93,000 in the last full month of Trump’s presidency.  

When assessing those numbers, remember that while Title 42 made it easier for the Border Patrol to send back asylum seekers, it did nothing to prevent those removed from trying again. In turn, many of the illegal crossings in Biden’s first two and a half years—under policies designed by Trump—were made by repeat offenders. Between 2019 and 2022, the recidivism rate jumped from 20 to 49 percent. In Biden’s new system, those illegally crossing the border can be banned from applying for asylum for five years and risk jail time if they violate the ban. We saw a spike in crossings just before the administration implemented the smart new policy because migrants hoped to avoid the Biden ban.  

What about fentanyl coming over the southern border? It’s true that trafficking of the synthetic opioid has increased, as have fatal overdoses. But that didn’t start with Biden. On Trump’s watch, annual fentanyl overdoses nearly tripled, from 19,500 in 2016 to 56,894 in 2020. Since then, they have doubled.  

But while Biden hasn’t been able to reverse the trajectory of overdoses, don’t blame his border policies. Biden’s administration has intercepted more fentanyl than Trump’s ever did. In fiscal year 2020, 4,800 pounds of fentanyl was seized. That metric more than tripled in fiscal year 2022, reaching 14,700 pounds. And Biden is beating that pace in the current fiscal year, having already seized 17,200 pounds, with a record 3,300 pounds in April alone.  

According to PolitiFact, Biden deserves partial credit for the higher seizure numbers because his administration is employing more and better detection technology at the border. Besides, immigration across the southern border has little to do with the fentanyl crisis. Eighty-six percent of people arrested for trafficking fentanyl are American citizens, as “the vast majority of fentanyl being smuggled in comes through ports of entry, not people trying to sneak into the country.”  

Republicans may talk up crime, and there are no shortages of alarming anecdotes, but there is no Biden crime wave. “Murder is down about 12 percent year-to-date in more than 90 cities that have released data for 2023, compared with data as of the same date in 2022,” according to crime data analyst Jeff Asher, writing in The Atlantic, a trend that could lead to “one of the largest annual percent changes in murder ever recorded.” That follows a 4 percent drop in homicides in 2022 from the prior year, according to the Council on Criminal Justice analysis of data from 35 cities. In fact, over the past five years, the worst month for homicides was July 2020—when Trump was president.  

Another set of promising data comes from the Violent Crime Survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which looked at data from 70 cities. During the first quarter of 2023, homicides, rapes, and robberies dropped about 8 percent from the first quarter of 2022.  

Yes, some crime data points indeed look better than others. The CCJ report found aggravated assaults were down 3.5 percent in 2022 but 7.5 percent higher than in 2019. The rate of robberies was up 5.5 percent in 2022 from the prior year, albeit four percent lower than in 2019. Residential burglaries were down 2 percent from 2021 and 26 percent from 2019. Nonresidential burglaries went up 11 percent from 2021 but down 8 percent from 2019.  

Where Republicans have the best argument is in the category of stolen cars: up 21 percent from 2021 and a whopping 59 percent from 2019. But they haven’t argued that we’re only suffering from a wave of car thefts. They assert America is suffering a collapse of law and order, on every front, solely on Biden’s watch. That’s not true. A mixed picture is not a crime wave.  

Republicans are not updating their talking points to reflect this new data, preferring to insist that America is falling apart. They’re betting that either the data trajectories will reverse course, belatedly validating Republican attack lines, or Americans will be so convinced everything is terrible that additional positive data won’t “feel” true, and voters will disregard it. At least, that is the Republican hope. 

But it’s never a good idea to base a campaign strategy on data you can’t control. In 2012, Mitt Romney hammered Barack Obama for “43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.” Then in early October, unemployment fell to 7.8 percent.  

The risk cuts both ways. All these numbers could go south on Biden as well. But Biden is actually doing something on all three fronts.  

To arrest inflation, Biden has encouraged the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates as much as necessary and has cut a deal with House Republicans to limit spending. To tame an unruly border, Biden is steering asylum seekers away from treacherous desert treks and towards a more orderly online application process. To combat crime, Biden included money in the 2021 American Rescue Plan to help cities hire more police. And in the fiscal year 2023 spending bill that Biden signed last December, according to Elizabeth Nolan Brown of the libertarian magazine Reason, “there are boatloads of cash going to cops.”  

We can’t know what these metrics will be in the run-up to Election Day. But in the meantime, reporters and voters should not allow Republican candidates to paint a dystopian picture of America without being forced to address the numbers that don’t fit their narrative.  

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.