This week, we see the massive third stimulus passed and signed by President Biden, and another retirement announcement from a long-standing Republican Senator, bringing the number of retiring incumbents to five. I mention these two things together for a reason: as Democrats consolidate power and act on their national priorities, the GOP is without a platform and losing conservative-policy-focused members.
The Congressional debate over the stimulus bills shows the general erosion of a national Republican policy stance. Fewer and fewer Republican elected officials concern themselves with fiscal conservatism except to oppose any tax increase and oppose any spending proposal from Democrats (let’s not pretend Congressional Republicans are afraid to spend taxpayer dollars when it’s their idea).
After the second stimulus bill failed ahead of the August recess, the Republican Party held its national convention. The RNC didn’t even draft a platform. It was simply speeches and showmanship. And warning viewers of the specter of a Biden administration and Democrats in general. I’m no Biden fan, but the RNC pretty much positioned him to be simultaneously in the throes of dementia and masterminding the descent of the United States into Venezuela-type incompetent-yet-thuggish socialism.
The point is, there is nowhere right now in any RNC document anything that says what Republicans stand for. What is our proposal on personal income taxes? What about cybersecurity after the massive SolarWinds attack on government computer systems—still ongoing BTW—by Russia? Do we have a recommendation for pandemic research and emergency preparation? Nope. The Republican platform right now is to oppose, oppose, oppose. It’s far easier to tear down someone else’s policy than, you know, to craft our own.
Looking back at the current legislation, the third stimulus bill just passed without a single Republican voting for it in the House or the Senate (oppose!). Yet a Pew Research poll shows that 70% of Americans favor it, and 66% of Americans say the amount of spending—$1.9 trillion—is the right amount. There are definitely some Republicans in that polling sample.
The third stimulus bill finally gets some better small business relief in place, although it may simply be too late. It extends expanded unemployment benefits. It dumps a ton of cash into state and local governments, predictably. It also marks a major policy shift by offering a cash child tax credit to households with little or no income, up to $3,600 a year. This is a marked shift from President Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform which carried the expectation that able-bodied adults would work, or seek work, to receive money from the government. Polling shows 65% of Americans support expanding the child tax credit, including over half of Republicans.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri announced his retirement Monday. He joins Senators Shelby (Ala.), Toomey (Pa.), Portman (Ohio) and Burr (N.C.), who have all opted not to run for another term. All five of these senators are “traditional” Republicans who could be reliably expected to support some level of fiscal conservatism, a strong national defense coupled with pragmatic foreign policy, and smaller government.
Who knows who will run for their seats in the 2022 primaries? The GOP seems to only place one requirement on candidates now: electability. That was the biggest lesson from the 2016 Presidential election and not one that the RNC is looking to abandon anytime soon.
I just received my first RNC survey this year. These surveys are for message testing mostly. It looked pretty much the same as all of them for the past few years—thin on policy and lots of questions based on “how much do you love this Trump talking point?”—but there were a few interesting topics. National infrastructure spending was there. Also regulating social media companies, now called “Big-Tech Oligarchs.” And the cover letter full of vitriol disparaging the “mainstream media”—that is, “the media.” I’m not impressed or enthused.
It looks more and more that for the next election cycle conservatism is out, and by-any-means-necessary-populism is in for the GOP. If I were a young person wanting to work in politics, first, I wouldn’t; second, I’d get really, really good at what we used to call opposition research.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.