Post-Trump, the GOP has seemingly lost the ability to discuss policy

First published at Daily Kos

Senate Republicans desperately want to tee up some policy-focused jabs at the Biden agenda that can resonate with their base and independents alike ahead of next year’s midterms.

But every time they appear in the conservative right-wing echo chamber, hosts quickly redirect the conversation back to some sensational culture war issue to keep their viewers hopped up on rage.

Take Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who recently went on Newsmax to stoke consternation over President Joe Biden’s energy policy, including cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, job losses, and rising gas prices.

But according to the Washington Post, within minutes of the 8-minute appearance, Newsmax hosts steered Cramer to more incendiary territory—whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was incorporating critical race theory into military training.

Cramer admitted to the Post that Republicans were failing to engage their voters with policy discussions that once resonated and even inflamed their base, like the runaway deficit charge that became a flashpoint for the Tea Party movement. But he also insisted that a discussion around inflation could break through if Americans continued to be impacted by things like rising gas prices at the pumps.

“If there’s anything to worry about, it’s this sense that something has to happen instantly for it to be effective,” Cramer said. “I reject that.”

But the problem for Republicans is twofold. First, for four years, Trump juiced up GOP voters on a steady diet of sugary sodas and pop rocks. But now that congressional Republicans are back to pretending to care about substantive policy again, their voters are too addicted to the sugar highs to give a damn about last decade’s red meat.

Second, almost all of Biden’s agenda is exceedingly more popular than Republicans or, for that matter, the policy they’re trying to sell. For instance, a month after Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law, a Washington Post-ABC poll found that 65% of Americans still supported the $1.9 trillion relief package, while just 31% opposed it.

Biden’s American Jobs Plan typically hasn’t drawn quite as much support as the relief plan in polling, but in poll after poll people still favor it far more than they oppose it, and the more voters hear about it the more they like it. An April Navigator Research poll of the jobs plan, for instance, found baseline support of 53% for the $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure proposal but just 23% opposition to it. And after the plan was described in greater detail to respondents, support shot up to 70%.

As for Republicans, they’re a wildly unpopular party pushing wildly unpopular policies to defend their wildly unpopular 2017 tax giveaway to the rich.  

Senate Republicans also appear to be a bit out of practice after holding the majority since 2014. Even they eventually came around to the realization that their efforts to combat Biden’s coronavirus relief plan was a 100% flop. 

Now it’s occurring to them that focusing their message 100% on Dr. Seuss and the great Potato Head controversy without incorporating any crossover appeal whatsoever for independent voters isn’t exactly a winning strategy for the midterms, particularly in the Senate.

So for now, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the Senate GOP’s No. 3, will keep hosting press conferences with the caucus every Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to drive messages that occasionally manage to veer into policy territory.

McConnell will keep appearing on Fox News to slam Biden’s “radical left-wing proposals” only to end up talking about that latest tweets of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

And all Republicans will appeal to the heavens to give them some policy gift such as sustained soaring inflation that might allow them to ween their voters off Trump’s steady junk food diet.