Does the GOP actually need a governing agenda for the midterms?

Now that the midterm election cycle is starting to heat up, some political analysts are noticing something a bit strange going on inside the swamp. There’s plenty of noise being made as usual, but what seems to be missing, at least thus far, is much in the way of campaign pledges and agenda items spelling out what the candidates plan to deliver if they are given control of the Congress in November. The Democrats are still busy running their January 6th commission, subpoenaing people and trying to talk about Donald Trump as much as possible. But as this NBC News analysis seeks to claim, the Republicans are mostly staying mum about big, sweeping policy issues. They ascribe this to a conflict between Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy, they claim, is trying to draw up specific policies for GOP candidates to run on while McConnell seems content to let the Democrats just tear themselves apart.

It’s the minimum that voters often expect of congressional candidates: Spell out what it is they would do if elected.

Yet inside the Republican Party, key leaders are split on whether to roll out any sort of governing agenda ahead of the midterm elections in November. With President Joe Biden’s approval rating tumbling, one GOP faction, headed by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, is betting that skewering the Democrats is all that’s needed to wrest control of the Senate. Another, led by House GOP chief Kevin McCarthy, is drawing up positions meant to persuade Americans that voting Republican might improve their lives.

Beneath the dueling approach to the midterms lies a more basic question about the party’s direction. Donald Trump first ran for office promising a sharp break from party orthodoxy. He questioned the merits of free trade and called for withdrawing U.S. forces from prolonged Middle East wars.

In typical NBC News fashion, the report claims that the GOP didn’t have a governing agenda or platform in 2020 either, saying “Trump was the platform.” This is, of course, just more malarkey. Trump (and his supporters down the ballot) ran on a promise to cut taxes, strengthen our border security, and make the United States a global leader in energy production. He moved quickly to do all of those things, though the pandemic pretty much threw everything off the rails toward the end of his presidency.

But with all of that said, should the GOP be building a “big message” to carry into the midterms about how their policies will make people’s lives better if they retake their former majorities in both chambers? You can understand why the Democrats don’t have any big new ideas to announce. It’s because almost none of their last set of big new ideas has been enacted. Aside from pandemic relief and a bit of infrastructure funding, the bulk of their agenda is stalled and their promises remain unfulfilled.

The Republicans, on the other hand, could define a specific set of proposals to address the problems caused by this administration so far. And that seems to be McCarthy’s goal. But if the Democrats don’t succeed in their efforts to raise everyone’s taxes this year, there’s no point promising to cut them further. I suppose they could drum up a proposal to get the labor shortage and supply chain issues under control, but I’m not sure what a plan like that would entail. A few other items come to mind, but I’m sure you get the general gist of it.

But if they are pressed on any of these plans, the Republicans will be forced to admit that there really isn’t much in the way of “big things” they will be able to do as long as Joe Biden (or his successor if he leaves office) is still in charge unless the red wave actually is a red wedding and they somehow secure a veto-proof majority. That seems like an unlikely prospect even in the most optimistic scenarios analysts are describing.

So perhaps Mitch McConnell is onto something after all. Joe Biden’s approval ratings remain in freefall and the Democrats are so busy fighting each other that they barely have time to carp at the GOP. Why not just let them keep reloading the circular firing squad while acting reasonably and putting up candidates that can win all of the marginal races? If they take back the majority in both chambers by any reasonable margin, Joe Biden’s presidency is effectively over anyway. There will be a few items they could pass involving COVID relief and similar measures and Biden would pretty much be forced to sign them. But other than that and paying the bills, there probably won’t be much happening in 2023 and 2024 except for the run-up to the next presidential election. And would that really be such a bad outcome under the circumstances?

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