What do Republicans Want in 2022? – the view from the UK

The BBC can provide an outside view of US politics that may be different from USA media outlets. The following is based upon an article by Anthony Zucher, the North American reporter for the BBC.

Political observers have not been shy about suggesting the Republican party is expected to win back at least one chamber of Congress in the mid-term elections this year. But the leadership has been reluctant to say what it would do with that power — and that could mean trouble soon. And, they believe the path to power will be smoother if they keep their agenda intentionally vague. It keeps their party united and gives Democrats less of a target to attack.

According to polls, a plurality of Americans plans to vote for Republican congressional candidates – a good sign of impending success. And they only need to flip a handful of seats to take control.

History suggests that, for them, there are two paths to victory – rallying around an agenda that gets conservative blood pumping or uniting against a president with whom voters have become annoyed after two years.

This year, the Republican Party leadership seems to be focusing its messaging on dissatisfaction with Joe Biden and the Democrats, rather than advancing a particular governing agenda. What will that mean if they do win in November?

Senator Mitch McConnell when asked what his party would do if it regained control of Congress next year, said, “That is a very good question,” he said. “And I’ll let you know when we take it back”.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has set up a taskforce to come up with a campaign agenda – something easier said than done. When it was attempted prior to the party’s national convention in 2020, Republicans were unable to agree on an electoral platform. The platform for the re-election of Donald Trump was instead simply a renewal of the 2016 document, even with its dated references to Barack Obama and the “failed” incumbent president.

The apparent lack of focus is being felt by the rank-and-file voters whose enthusiasm the party will need in November. The Republican Party now the Party of Trump

At the February Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, a gathering of right-wing activists and politicians in Florida, some attendees were unimpressed.

“I come to CPAC, and I hear a lot of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” said Florida resident Bernita Gigowski. “And I just want to yell out, ‘but you’ve been in office for 10 or 12 years and what have you done?'”

“The Republican Party is currently going through some growing pains,” said Daniel Hopping, a college student attending the conference.

The lack of a cohesive Republican platform is, in part, a reflection of the changes the party has undergone since Trump won the presidency in 2016, said Hopping.

“We’re becoming more of a populist, limited-government, culturally-sound party rather than just, ‘let’s just cut taxes and have a nice trade deal or something.'”

Among Republicans, the divides between the party’s big-business, corporate interests, the Christian evangelicals, and the white working-class voters who flocked to Trump’s America-First rhetoric have been smoothed over but still run deep. But that temporary alliance is fragile and comes with risks.

If Republicans take power next year, acrimony over the direction of the party on social issues, trade, foreign policy, and immigration could re-emerge.

The policy void at the top of the Republican Party leadership has presented an opportunity for some of the party’s 2024 presidential hopefuls, however.  Mike Pence is the most recent contender to try his hand at party agenda-setting. This year, he unveiled a 19-page policy plan, touting what he calls “patriotic education” for US students.

It also proposes barring transgender athletes from competing against women, rescinding China’s preferred trade status with the US, closer regulation of social media companies and making Trump-era corporate tax cuts permanent.

Pence’s efforts have gone better than those of Florida Senator Rick Scott’s 11-point “Plan to Rescue America”, though.

His proposal, which touched on hot-button social issues like banning abortion and requiring students to say the US pledge of allegiance at school, has already been excoriated by Democrats and triggered a dispute within the Republican party.

One of the benefits of the “Contract With America” plan that Republican House candidates rallied around in 1994 was that, when Republicans took power, they had a clearly outlined governing agenda. Some of it proved controversial, but the party leaders were able to quickly bring legislation to the floor for votes.

With a fractured party in 2022, however, there is no cohesion up and down the Republican ranks.

In the Senate, McConnell has said that his priorities would be addressing “inflation, energy, defense, the border and crime”.

In the House, besides his taskforce, McCarthy has said he wants to priorities a “parents’ bill of rights”. Scott and Pence are both eying the White House.

Republican voters have their own priorities. According to a survey of CPAC attendees, the top priorities for the party was election security – a sign that Trump’s continued challenging of his 2020 defeat still resonated with the base. They also listed constitutional rights (free speech, gun rights, etc.), immigration, and “reopening the economy” after Covid restrictions as important.

A national poll conducted by CBS in April found the economy, immigration, and crime as the highest priorities for Republicans.

Republicans may agree that defeating the Democrats is the top priority right now but come next year the party could be pulled in a hundred different directions. That could present challenges, as the party faithful could be presented with a range of candidates seeking the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, each with their own set of policy proposals and priorities.

That has all the ingredients for a contentious, and possibly damaging, Republican primary season.

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