Talking Points

The curious case of the missing Republican legislative agenda

It's not that Republicans have zero ideas about how to govern the country. They just don't think those ideas are worth talking about. So they won't.

Axios reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is refusing to put forward any kind of legislative agenda for the party ahead of next year's midterm elections, despite a great deal of donor pressure — and despite the fact that the party might win majorities in Congress, and thus be required to actually govern. Apparently it's bad politics to tell voters what you'll do with the power they give you. 

"One of the biggest mistakes challengers often make is thinking campaigns are about them and their ideas," a source told Axios. "No one gives a s--t about that. Elections are referendums on incumbents."

Maybe. But it's also true that the Republican Party had an incumbent running in last year's presidential election — and that the GOP decided not to write a platform then, either. Republicans chose instead to signal to the public that they stood for Donald Trump and whatever his desires were on any given day. McConnell's decision to follow that example suggests his party has settled on playing peek-a-boo with voters as a long-term political tactic.

That's unfortunate, not to mention undemocratic. While it's true that elections act often as a judgment on incumbents, voters deserve to know the specifics of how challengers will do better, rather than just that they'll be different in some vague, undefined way. McConnell's strategy drains politics of its content, leaving only a cacophony of negative ads, angry tweets, and Fox News hits. And it creates a sense that power is to be acquired for the sake of power itself, rather than be wielded for the common good. Which might actually be true, but isn't very salutary. 

With history as our guide, it's not hard to guess what Republicans will do if they regain power: pass tax cuts for the rich, put conservative judges on the federal bench, and gut regulatory agencies like the EPA. This is what they always do. But the voting public shouldn't be asked to support GOP candidates purely on hunches and guesswork.

Maybe McConnell is thinking about the long-term. "Challengers need to keep the focus on what incumbents promised and point out how they failed to deliver and how that has negatively impacted voters' lives," said Axios' anonymous source. That will apply to Democrats in 2022, but it might apply to Republicans thereafter. Voters can't fault you for breaking promises if you don't make any.