Republicans never got around to figuring out what to say about the Democrats' COVID relief package, appearing far more interested in manufactured culture-war disputes than the $1.9 trillion legislation. But now that the American Rescue Plan has passed Congress, GOP officials are left with a new problem: if the plan works, Democrats are likely to get the credit.
And for one Republican leader in particular, that just won't do.
Top Republicans ... sought preemptively to deny Democrats credit for any economic improvement that might follow the measure's enactment. "The American people are going to see an American comeback this year," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, "but it won't be because of this liberal bill."
In case this wasn't quite enough, McConnell went on to tell reporters yesterday, "We're about to have a boom. And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion."
No, of course not. Heaven forbid.
The messaging is about as subtle as a sledgehammer: the Senate minority leader is increasingly optimistic about 2021, but increasingly pessimistic about the political implications. McConnell needs voters to see developments through a specific partisan lens: Sure, things appear to be improving, and sure, Democrats are advancing their agenda, but no one should connect those two developments.
This is entirely consistent with how McConnell has long viewed economic data. For example, 2014 -- the sixth year of the Obama era -- was the best year for job growth in the United States in the 21st century. In early January 2015, McConnell declared that the "glimmer of hope" stemmed from "the expectation of a new Republican Congress."
In other words, according to the Kentucky Republican, under no circumstances can good news be attributed to Democratic governance -- ever.
If McConnell expects this to be persuasive, however, he should lower his expectations. For one thing, there's reality to consider: every major investment firm has revised their economic projections for 2021 in a more encouraging direction, precisely because they believe the American Rescue Plan will improve growth and job creation. It's also why so many private-sector executives endorsed the relief package before it passed.
There is no serious talk about coincidences: experts understand that the Democrats' plan is likely to make a dramatic difference, whether McConnell likes it or not.
What's more, voters are unlikely to simply accept the GOP leader's line at face value. Republicans will try to change the subject, downplay the recovery, and emphasize cultural grievances, but if McConnell expects the electorate to deny Democrats credit for success, he's likely to be disappointed.
Postscript: In case this isn't obvious, McConnell's rhetoric reinforces the fact that he will not work constructively with Democrats on important legislation. Indeed, he's effectively admitting his political motivations, conceding in classic post-policy fashion, that his principal concern is which party has the upper hand in the next election cycle, not whether the parties can partner on good governance.
Update: McConnell kept this going earlier today, insisting, "The American people already built a parade that's been marching toward victory. Democrats just want to sprint in front of the parade and claim credit."