Republicans are vying for control of Congress. Just don’t ask them what they plan to do if they win.
Look no further than battleground North Carolina for evidence of the GOP’s muddled governing agenda, where party leaders crammed into a convention hall Saturday night to cheer former President Donald Trump. Despite a high-stakes U.S. With the 2020 election looming, Republicans in the Senate were united not by any consistent set of conservative policies or principles, but by Trump’s baseless grievances about the 2020 election and his attacks on critics in both parties.
The lack of a forward-thinking agenda contrasts sharply with previous successful midterm elections, particularly in 1994 and 2010, when Republicans swept to power after taking firm positions on health care, federal spending, and crime, among other issues. Without such a strategy in place heading into 2022, Republicans on the ballot risk being defined entirely by Trump, who lost his last election by garnering 7 million fewer votes nationally than Democrat Joe Biden and whose popularity has dipped further, even among some Republicans, since leaving office in January.
The Republican Party’s embrace of Trump’s self-serving priorities has nearly completely depleted the party’s long-standing commitment to fiscal discipline, free markets, and even the rule of law. As a result, Republican candidates from North Carolina to North Dakota are unwilling or unable to tell voters how, if given the opportunity, they would address the nation’s most pressing issues.
Republicans’ leaders acknowledge that it could be another year or more before they develop a clear governing agenda. Meanwhile, Trump, who is preoccupied with the past rather than the future, intends to return to the campaign trail on a regular basis. Following up on Saturday’s appearance in North Carolina, his advisers are eyeing potential rallies in states with competitive Senate races in 2022, such as Ohio, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.
When asked about Trump’s role in the upcoming campaign, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the Senate Republican political arm, gave a lukewarm response in an interview.
When asked if Trump should be the Republican Party’s face for the midterm elections, when control of the House, Senate, and dozens of governorships are at stake, he balked. Republicans are currently focusing much of their energy on culture wars and railing against Biden’s agenda when they are not aligning themselves with Trump. The president has already signed a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that was widely supported by voters, backed by narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Now, he’s promoting a massive infrastructure package, which polls indicate could be equally popular.
Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., is concerned that Republicans will waste built-in advantages in their bid to retake control of Congress and expand their advantage with governorships. In recent history, the party opposing the current administration has almost always made significant gains in the first midterm election following a new presidency.
Democrats will lose control of Congress if Republicans flip just five House seats and one Senate seat. Some Republican leaders close to Trump are advising him to look ahead. The former president is scheduled to meet this week with Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, to begin discussing the party’s policy prescriptions if the GOP retakes the House majority next year.
According to Trump adviser Jason Miller, suggesting that Trump is actively working with Gingrich to create the document is “a bit of an overreach.”
Meanwhile, Republican candidates in key Senate races, including North Carolina, are struggling to provide voters with a clear vision of what they would do if elected as they compete for Trump’s endorsement. At least three Republicans are running to replace retiring North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who was censured by state party leaders in February for supporting Trump’s impeachment. Former Gov. Pat McCrory, current Rep. Ted Budd, and former Rep. Mark Walker are all running for the Republican nomination.
After Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, dropped out of the race over the weekend, Trump formally endorsed Budd, the only Republican primary candidate who voted against certifying Trump’s 2020 election loss.