Of the many challenges facing Republicans with midterm elections now just two months away, the most consequential is their choice of an overarching campaign strategy. On one hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) believes GOP candidates need to hammer away relentlessly at the record of Joe Biden and Democrats. On the other hand, House-Speaker-in-Waiting Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is convinced that his party needs to present a positive vision of the future and is set to unveil a specific agenda akin to Newt Gingrich’s famed Contract with America in 1994, when the GOP took control of the House for the first time in decades. Indeed, it’s McConnell vs McCarthy – and nothing short of control of Congress is on the line.
But at least Republicans have a choice on the tenor of their campaign. The Democrats do not. Why? Because the GOP can reasonably choose either a largely positive campaign message outlining their America-First agenda, or a mostly negative campaign detailing the failures of Joe Biden and his party. The Democrats do not have the same luxury because the issue matrix, as the consultants call it, works entirely against them. All the money-related issues, still the most significant among voters far and wide, will not accrue to their benefit. The highest inflation rate in 40 years, ominous signs of a recession, soaring food prices, rampant urban crime, and collapsing border security do not add up to an appealing record. And let’s not forget their maddening wokeness, the lingering odor of a catastrophic surrender in Afghanistan, and Biden’s age and declining condition.
Thus, Biden’s decision to go so drastically, historically negative with his scurrilous attacks on “MAGA Republicans” reflects his belief that progressive legislation on climate change, his executive order on student loans, and the Supreme Court decision sending abortion back to the states, will not be enough to avoid losing the House and Senate. While those huge expenditures excite their progressive constituents to some degree, Democrats have understandably concluded that those issues are not enough to overshadow their overall record. And given the ferocity of Biden’s assault on the millions who dared vote for Trump, we could probably apply to the political realm a variant of what was once said about lawyers: If the facts are against you, pound the law. If the law is against you, pound the facts. And if the law and the facts are both against you, pound the table and yell like hell. Have we not just witnessed exactly that from Joe Biden?
McConnell vs McCarthy – Which Road to the Promised Land?
Biden’s assertion that there are “MAGA Republicans” who are set apart from “mainstream Republicans” does not hold up to even mild scrutiny. When voters cast their ballots in 2020, they were presented with four or more options for president: Trump, Biden, one or more third party candidates, or no candidate at all. Make no mistake. The 74 million who chose to pull the lever for Trump, especially given the uniquely controversial nature of his presidency, are MAGA Republicans, or they would have chosen from among the several remaining options. In 2016, Trump was a mystery running on a wing and a prayer. But by 2020, he was the most examined, investigated, and slandered man on earth. The second time around, voters knew exactly what they would be getting in the 45th president.
So, McConnell’s contrary view notwithstanding, later this month, McCarthy will apparently unveil the details of a GOP, Trump-inspired “Commitment to America,” centered around four basic premises designed to appeal to all Republicans – and independents, of course: “an economy that is strong, a nation that is safe, a future that is free, and a government that is accountable.” The platform, representing what GOP legislators intend to get done in the first hundred days of the 118th Congress, is a compressed version of what parties release during presidential election years. Members of the GOP House caucus have been given “communications kits” so they can all play from the same music.
As Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) told Axios, “You’ll have everybody from the most conservative district to the most swingiest district all pushing the same thing. So that should fire everybody up.” And Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), another believer in a positive agenda, opines that “If you’re just running on anti-Biden, well, that’s not going to get you over the finish line.” Mitch McConnell may beg to differ, but on September 19 in Pittsburgh, voters will learn in organized fashion the specifics of what Republicans support, not just what they oppose.