If Joe Biden can capture the presidency by simply not being Donald Trump, can’t Republicans now take control of Congress by merely declaring they are not the dastardly Democrats? That’s the question increasingly in play in GOP circles with less than six months to go before midterm elections. And while the prevailing answer from most within the party appears to be yes, one previously soft-spoken senator seems to believe the answer is no.
As Sen. Rick Scott promotes his specific, aggressive MAGA-friendly agenda, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – along with most of his GOP colleagues – is preaching the opposite. He is calling for a strategy of single-mindedly hammering home – as Biden did in reverse when he hid in his basement through the 2020 presidential campaign – that his party is the alternative, the not-Democrats; few specifics beyond that required. By continuously reciting the dismal record of Biden and his party, Republican candidates would essentially be asking the voters the rhetorical question of whether they could possibly do any worse than Pelosi, Schumer and company.
Given that independent voters now easily outnumber both Republicans and Democrats, this fundamental approach to the campaign would allow the GOP’s own lack of popularity to be largely irrelevant, as they would sidestep detailed discussion about the most divisive issues of the campaign, including the Trump presidency, abortion and race. With inflation, soaring prices, the border disaster, a continuing crime wave, cancel culture, critical race theory, and Afghanistan all attached to Biden like white on rice, why do anything but point out the futility of the entire Democratic party, the theory goes. Put in its simplest terms, they would follow the time-tested maxim, allegedly first coined by Napoleon and oft repeated since, to never interfere with an enemy while he’s in the process of destroying himself. And thus, McConnell has refused to release plans for what Republicans intend to do if they gain the majority.
Ultra-MAGA is the New MAGA
In stark contrast, Scott, Florida’s first-term Senator, has laid down what might be termed a culture war agenda that is undoubtedly bringing a smile to the face of the 45th president, and heartburn to those who prefer to just recount the evils of the Democrats, and keep Trump and his ideas out of it. Scott’s ideas are so MAGA-friendly that Biden picked up on his plan, creating the “ultra-MAGA” meme which, like most Biden initiatives, has backfired – it is now embraced by the very people it was meant to insult in what has become Biden’s own “deplorable” moment.
Scott, former governor of the Sunshine State and past chair of the Republican Senatorial Committee, has until now been widely viewed as a conventional conservative. But you would hardly know it from his in-your-face 11-point, 31-page “Plan to Rescue America,” which most prominently calls for limiting all federal government employees – yes, including members of Congress – to 12 years of service, for completing the border wall (whether Mexico pays for it or not, presumably), and actually naming it after Donald Trump. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The document declares that there are only “two genders” (not the 50+ touted on social media), and calls for removing all references to ethnicity on government forms and documents. Seeking a return to patriotism and traditional standards of civic conduct, it calls for kids to say the pledge of allegiance, salute the flag, and “learn that America is a great country, and choose the school that best fits them.” It condemns “the soft-on-crime days of coddling criminal behavior” in pledging to “re-fund and respect the police.” It attacks “left-wing efforts to rig elections,” vows to stop “all government efforts to deny our religious freedom and freedom of speech” and to “protect, defend and promote the American Family at all costs.”
“Hopefully, by doing this, we’ll have more of a conversation about what Republicans are going to get done. Because when we get the majority, I want to get something done,” Scott told Politico. “There’s things that people would rather not talk about. I’m willing to say exactly what I’m going to do. I think it’s fair to the voter.”
To Trump or Not to Trump – That is the Question
Democrats, somewhat heartened by the return of abortion as an issue bound to energize their base voters, can be expected to make the threat of Donald Trump’s return their other top issue – what else do they have? That begs the question of whether it is better for Republicans to prominently remind the voters of Trump’s superior record on the economy and beyond, or steer clear for fear of his explosively controversial personality and Jan. 6 becoming prominent issues.
One strategy is undoubtedly more cynical, the other more hopeful. One puts Trump, or at least his MAGA agenda, front and center, the other all but ignores the 45th president. One presumes that woke-weary voters will turn away from the Democrats no matter the opposition, the other is based on the notion that the GOP must offer an attractive alternative agenda.
Many, if not most, Republicans will try to balance the two strategies, but it might well be at their own peril. They must come down on one side or the other as the primary basis of their appeal. Whether they capture just the House or both chambers of Congress – and how many seats they stand to gain – will depend on the tricky, fundamental choice of whether to go scorched-earth, or full-on MAGA.