Republicans are riding high about their prospects for retaking both chambers of Congress in the upcoming midterms, thanks to the abundant campaign fodder they believe Democrats and the Biden administration have handed them in recent weeks.
Conservatives pointed to the surge of migrants at the southern border; difficulties getting kids back in school for in-person learning amid the pandemic; massive spending from the White House and Democratic-controlled Congress; the inclusion of progressive priorities in infrastructure and economic relief bills; and most recently a push among some Democrats to expand the Supreme Court as actions that will offer campaign fodder for Republicans in the months to come.
Some GOP lawmakers are gloating over their prospects even though the 2022 midterms are still 19 months away.
« This is going to be like 2010, 2012, 2014 where we pick up seats because of Obama’s agenda, » Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), head of the Republican Senate’s campaign arm, said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Friday.
« Now what I talk about every day is do we want open borders? No. Do we want to shut down our schools? No. Do we want men playing in women’s sports? No. Do we want to shut down the Keystone Pipeline? No. Do we want voter ID? Yes, » he continued. « And the Democrats are on the opposite side of all those issues, and I’m going to make sure every American knows about it. »
The party in power traditionally loses seats during midterm elections, putting Democrats on defense at a time when they already are protecting razor-thin majorities in both chambers of Congress. The Senate is split 50-50 with Democrats up for reelection in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and elsewhere, while Republicans would need to pick up just a handful of House seats to take the majority.
With Democrats already on the ropes based on history, Republicans feel they have a full complement of issues to attack the other party over, including policy matters and cultural issues that will motivate their voters and potential swing voters.
The border situation has been a favorite talking point for conservatives, with lawmakers and former President Trump blaming the Biden administration’s rollback of hard-line immigration policies for the massive influx of migrants.
Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, conducted polling late last month in 15 congressional swing districts and 19 suburban swing counties that found a majority of those surveyed agreed Biden’s reversal of Trump’s policies was to blame for the burgeoning crisis and were less likely to vote for Democrats because of the surge in migrants at the border.
The White House on Friday said it would not raise the refugee cap from 15,000 this year despite Biden pledging to do so. The reversal drew widespread criticism from Democrats, and it served as a signal that the administration sees an increase in migration, even when it is those fleeing persecution, as a thorny political issue.
Some GOP operatives see it as an opening.
« Immigration and the loss of control of the border is the top Achilles’ heel for Democrats, »said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser.
Eberhart also noted that Biden’s proposed infrastructure package includes a number of items most popular with more progressive Democrats that Republicans argue fall outside the scope of traditional infrastructure, such as funding to boost the use of electric vehicles, investments aimed at researching climate change solutions and money for long-term care workers. A follow-up proposal later this month is expected to focus on additional progressive priorities like funding for community college and family care.
« That and the amount of money Democrats are shoveling into bills under the banner of economic stimulus that is a thinly veiled payola to their progressive coalition, »Eberhart said.
Republicans have been quick to make political hay out of other Democratic proposals in recent weeks.
A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday released legislation that would expand the Supreme Court from nine seats to 13, a move they argued would balance the court from its current 6-3 majority.
But the issue could play into the hands of conservatives, who in previous elections have cited the Supreme Court as one of their most motivating factors when voting.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group, promptly launched a $1 million ad campaign hitting Biden over his commission to study the issue of expanding the court.
Meanwhile, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), after yet another police shooting of a Black man, said last week that there should be « [n]o more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed. »
The White House and even some progressives, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), sought to distance themselves from Tlaib’s comments, and moderate Democrats were incensed after the 2020 election when being branded with calls to « defund the police » hurt them in pivotal swing districts.
GOP strategists and activists also argued that Democrats may be overstepping in their attacks on state-level voting laws, which Biden and others have likened to « Jim Crow on steroids. »
« I think that these issues resonate with all Americans, and in places where Democrats have a very thin majority, these kinds of issues could cost them seats, »said Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the conservative group Tea Party Patriots.
The White House, mindful that Democrats may not control Congress beyond 2022, has been aggressive in rolling out ambitious proposals and messaging them to win public support. It has paid off initially, as public polling shows Biden earning high marks overall and his first pieces of legislation are overwhelmingly popular with the public.
A Pew Research poll released Friday found Biden’s approval rating is 59 percent as he nears his 100th day in office, buoyed by majority approval with his handling of vaccine distribution.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed Biden getting strong marks on the economy, climate change and taxes, and his American Jobs Plan proposal to invest $2.3 trillion on infrastructure like roads, bridges, broadband and climate-friendly industries was above water, too. Support for the plan rose to 53 percent if it is paid for through an increase in the corporate tax rate, which Biden has proposed.
Republicans have also struggled to put a dent in the popularity of the American Rescue Plan, an economic relief package that passed without a single GOP vote earlier this year. A Gallup Poll in late March found 63 percent approved of the bill, which provided direct payments to most Americans and aid for vaccine distribution, among other items.
The polling reflects the uphill battle Republicans face in winning over moderate voters, who thus far appear happy with Biden’s approach to the job. But the president’s underwater ratings on immigration, for example, show that there are some vulnerabilities for conservatives to exploit.
There will be no shortage of outside groups prepared to spend money on ads targeting the Biden agenda in the months leading up to the midterms. Former Trump officials, such as Mike Pence, Stephen Miller and Larry Kudlow, have all launched advocacy groups, and more established conservative groups are prepared to play a role as well.
There are some concerns the Republican base could be beset by its own infighting, as Trump weighs support for primary challengers to GOP lawmakers who criticize him and controversial figures like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) overshadow the party’s messaging with her frequently controversial and at times racist comments.
Martin pushed back on concerns about a fractured Republican party as overblown.
« I think we all understand that the threat right now comes from the potential of government takeover of every single sector of our lives if the Biden-Harris vision is enacted, » Martin said. « And we’re focused on that and the actions they’re taking and how it would affect us more than just looking at people who are with us most of the time. »
Brett Samuels, WIth The Hill
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