It is usually the case that political parties each lay out some form of manifesto before an election to help voters decide whom they plan to support. The Republican party seems to have decided to reverse that practice.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has been reluctant to release details of what Republicans would do should they retake Congress in the midterms, with McConnell saying only an agenda will be revealed “when we take it back”.
“If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader,” McConnell told reporters. “I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor.
Got that? He’s saying to vote for them first and after the election they will tell you what their legislative agenda is. Although this is a perversion of what politics should be, it makes for a kind of cynical sense and McConnell is as cynical as they come.
The Republicans think they have a good chance of winning majorities in both chambers of Congress purely on the basis of historical trends where the party that occupies the White House loses seats. Even the smallest shift in their favor will give them that desired result. He clearly thinks that issues are irrelevant except perhaps for the size of the shift. So why say anything that might upset the apple cart and alienate any voters? Just sit tight and let them vote for the Republican brand even if they have no idea what it stands for.
This is particularly the case because policies that Republicans favor tend to be actually unpopular, as can be seen from the fact that McConnell was quick to distance the party from proposals floated by some members of his caucus.
The Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson said Republicans should try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they take back power – then retreated, under fire from the Biden administration.
Speaking to Breitbart News, a far-right site, on Monday, Johnson said Republicans could “actually make good on what we established as our priorities” if they won control of Congress in midterms this year and the presidency in 2024.
“For example, if we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare – I still think we need to fix our healthcare system – we need to have the plan ahead of time so that once we get in office, we can implement it immediately, not knock around like we did last time and fail.”
The ACA has increased in popularity since Biden took office. As of last year, approximately 31 million Americans received healthcare coverage through the ACA. An additional 1.2 million enrolled during a special six-month period during the Covid pandemic.
The Florida senator Rick Scott produced an 11-point plan but McConnell opposed it in public. Scott’s plan, Rescue America, includes building Trump’s promised border wall, a declaration that there are only two genders, eliminating the Department of Education and requiring all Americans to pay some form of income tax.
In his interview with Breitbart, Johnson said he supported parts of Scott’s plan. But his comments on Obamacare gave Democrats something of an open goal, in terms of highlighting another Republican attack on a popular law.
What we are going to see is an election in which Republicans will have a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand they will have Trump and the nutters who are devoted followers of him go on culture war idiocies that I describe as as GRAGGGS issues (guns, race, abortion, god, gays, gender, sex) wrapped up in various QAnon-type conspiracies that really fire up the nutters even though none of those issues have any practical effect on their lives. Trump will keep ranting about how the last election was stolen from him.
On the other hand we will see McConnell distance himself from those issues in an effort to persuade those who are not nutters that the Republican party still is the party of mainstream conservatism and not the reality, that it has become a party with a radical and dangerous agenda.