Election Day 2018 is about 88 days away, and the Republican majority, eager to stay in power, certainly has the option of telling voters about all of the things GOP officials have done with the governing authority the electorate gave them in the last election cycle.
But that’s not quite the message Americans are hearing right now. The Associated Press reported this week that, as the primary season nears its end, Republicans are “looking ahead to a general-election strategy of embracing anxiety as a tool to motivate voters.”
In central Kentucky, GOP Rep. Andy Barr is reminding voters that Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, voted for President Barack Obama and opposes Trump’s proposed border wall. In suburban Pennsylvania, vulnerable Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has warned of “a border in crisis” and demanded a surge of immigration enforcement agents.
And in New Jersey, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance featured an ad in which Democrat opponent Tom Malinowski calls himself a “lifelong progressive Democrat” over and over. Lance also warns of his “dangerous policies” like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In fairness, GOP officials and candidates aren’t just asking voters to be afraid of immigrants; they’re also urging people to fear Nancy Pelosi. The Washington Post reported overnight:
Republicans, clinging to a 23-seat majority in the House, have made the House minority leader a central element of their attack ads and are portraying many of their opponents as inextricably tied to the liberal from San Francisco.
In the special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, for example, Republicans and their outside allies spent millions of dollars blanketing the airwaves, and roughly a third of their ads referenced the House Minority Leader from California.
There is, of course, room for a spirited discussion about the specific elements of the Republicans’ election-year messaging. I could devote the next several hundred words exploring the GOP’s embrace of racially charged anti-immigrant rhetoric, the right’s dependence on demagogic xenophobia, and the not-so-subtle misogyny behind the Republicans’ anti-Pelosi crusade.
But as important as those observations are, let’s not miss the forest for the trees: after nearly two years of attempts at governing, with their party controlling all of the levers of federal power for the first time in a decade, the Republican message is still little more than, “Nancy Pelosi is bad and immigrants are scary.”
It’d be a mistake to argue that the GOP majority has nothing to show for its efforts. After all, Republicans did give a massive tax break to the wealthy and big corporations. The trouble is, the American mainstream opposed the plan from the outset, and it’s still broadly unpopular.
It’d also be a mistake to suggest GOP officials have no plans for the next Congress if they manage to hold onto their majority. We learned just this week, for example, that Republicans believe they have a credible shot at destroying the Affordable Care Act next year if they can add an extra vote or two to their Senate majority.
But as one GOP operative told Axios, the party is determined “not to talk about” the plan, since Republicans know that their agenda is too unpopular to campaign on.
All of which leaves the party in an awkward spot. Republicans don’t want to run on their governing record, and they can’t run on their vision for the future.
As a consequence, GOP officials and candidates have found themselves in a position in which they sound an awful lot like a minority party, rattling on about Nancy Pelosi being liberal and immigrants being terrifying.