Shocker—Republicans got caught up in a useless round of conservative media-fueled demagoguery while the rest of America reeled from the greatest public health disaster in a century. Democrats simply blew right past Republicans to answer the national need. But what confounds GOP strategists is that the Republican party really mounted no concerted effort to oppose the Democratic legislation as it gained widespread traction and was broadly embraced by voters.
That's left people like Steve Bannon crying in his coffee. “It’s a fairly popular bill that polled well because it’s been sold as a COVID relief bill with direct cash payments to Americans—what’s not to like?” Bannon said. “However, that’s not what the bill is. That’s a huge problem because 2022 has already started and you don’t see the fight here.”
The Republican National Committee, for instance, issued a meager two statements about the bill. Conservative media went down the Seuss-Potato rabbit hole. And GOP lawmakers—who helped Donald Trump crank up the national debt by $7.8 trillion—apparently felt a little squeamish about suddenly attacking pandemic-related spending.
“Republicans lost credibility on [the deficit] issue during the Trump years, especially the first couple years when we had the power to do something about it,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a GOP consultant. “There was no interest in doing anything about it. It was just, ‘let’s not even talk about spending or the debt or deficit or anything like that.’”
Even Democrats have been baffled by the Republican whiff on such a major battle. John Anzalone, an external Biden adviser and former Biden campaign pollster, was amazed that Republicans settled on framing the package as unrelated to COVID-19 when so many Americans who will get the relief money are specifically reeling from pandemic-related illness, joblessness, and financial struggles.
“This is just really mind-boggling,” Anzalone said. “At a time that we’re going through three or four crises at once, they have basically just punted. They've completely punted.”
But the lack of a coordinated GOP campaign with only helter-skelter attempts to mount an opposition is really emblematic of a much bigger problem for the Republican party—it no longer knows what it is or what it stands for. With no core values to operate on after they spent four years surrendering the party to a completely unmoored Donald Trump, Republicans don't have any go-to plays or even messengers for that matter.
And once again, their main messenger—Trump—was so consumed with his own pity party over the lost election and impeachment that it crippled the party's ability to settle on a line of attack and prosecute it in the media.
This will be a continual problem moving forward for Republicans. It's not only a question of, “what do they stand for?” but one of, “who can even carry that message”?
People like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made feeble attempts at smearing the legislation, calling it "reparations" for Black farmers. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas skewered Democrats for not excluding inmates from getting relief. But Cotton had voted in favor of a COVID-19 package under Trump that also included payments for those very same inmates.
The lack of both message and messenger has left Republicans hoping against hope the relief that has already started hitting bank accounts and will continue to target life-saving funds to the nation's neediest will somehow plummet in popularity.
“It’s at the peak of its popularity right now and the more it becomes unpopular we’ll pound against them,” said one GOP aide.
But who exactly will do the pounding and what in the heck will they say? No one even has a clue—least of all, Republicans.
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