Republicans Have Given Up Governing in Favor of Spicy Memes

On Wednesday, President Biden offered a detailed legislative agenda with the means to pay for it. Senator Tim Scott (the only Black Republican senator) was tasked with unenviable job of providing the other side’s rebuttal. Did he counter Biden’s proposals with Republican ones?

Of course not. Scott’s response—which began with lamenting that “our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes”—was to a speech Biden didn’t give. Scott decried the continued closure of schools, touted the COVID successes of the Trump administration, criticized Biden’s COVID relief bill, criticized the infrastructure bill as containing a very small amount of what Republicans narrowly define as “infrastructure,” and criticized Biden’s jobs and family plans as too much government largesse.

Scott said, “We should be expanding opportunities and options for all families—not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best. Infrastructure spending that shrinks our economy is not common sense.” Of course, he didn’t explain what the “certain issues” were or why Biden’s infrastructure plan would “shrink” the economy. Scott didn’t have to, of course, because Republicans accept as a given, and without having to show their work, that Democratic economic policies hurt economic growth, despite empirical data to the contrary.

And so on. But nowhere in Scott’s rebuttal did he advance any counterproposals at all. If Scott and the rest of the Republican caucus really believe we should expand opportunities and options for all families, what is their proposal for that? If they believe there exists some type of infrastructure bill that grows the economy, where is it?

The honest answer is: there is no plan. Aside from the bipartisan COVID relief package passed under Trump in 2020, Republicans’ last piece of legislation that contained concrete, positive policies (as opposed to simply a repeal of existing policies) was the 2017 tax reform bill. Under Trump, Republicans abandoned governance in favor of messaging. They touted infrastructure proposals, but none ever materialized, leading to the running joke that every week was “Infrastructure Week.” Throughout his tenure as president, Trump insisted that Obamacare would be repealed and replaced with something that was better, greater, cheaper—and yet not once between 2017 and 2021 did the Republicans ever come close to proposing anything to replace Obamacare, let alone something as superlative as Trump claimed it would be. Even as late July 2020, Trump sat for an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, who pointed out that Trump had three-and-a-half years to come up with a health care package, but hadn’t done so. Trump responded:

We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan that the Supreme Court decision on DACA gave me the right to do. So we’re going to solve—we’re going to sign an immigration plan, a health care plan, and various other plans. And nobody will have done what I’m doing in the next four weeks. 

It should go without saying that a health care plan wasn’t proposed, let alone signed, within two weeks of that interview or at any other time afterward. (Trump was right, though—nobody did do what he did in the ensuing four weeks, which was nothing.)

This is all of a piece. Trump himself was devoid of any policy proposals. Once an actual real estate entrepreneur, he became a television version of a businessman with his show The Apprentice and relegated himself to licensing his name to other people’s real estate projects, as well as chintzy ventures like Trump Steaks, Trump Wine, and the entirely fraudulent Trump University. Trump’s style of “governance” (if you can even call it that) was communication, as evidenced by his unceasing tweeting and nonstop rallies. For him, the presidency was a never-ending campaign.

Other Republicans have followed suit. Madison Cawthorn, a staunch Trump loyalist, admitted that he built his staff around communications rather than policy. Other representatives like Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Lauren Boebert appear to have no other policy initiatives than trolling Democrats on Twitter. Indeed, one of MTG’s first acts as a newly elected representative was to propose articles of impeachment against Biden, who had been president for all of one day. (Greene has repeatedly criticized the “Green New Deal,” but admitted she hadn’t read it.) Senator Josh Hawley, famously photographed raising his arm in solidarity with the violent, armed mob that would later break into the U.S. Capitol and call for both Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence to be killed, voted against every single one of Biden’s cabinet nominees. There are no principled reasons for these actions, other than to perform for their constituents, demonstrate that they’re still firmly ensconced in Trump World, and signal enough ultra-conservative bona fides that they’ll have a warm seat waiting for them at Fox News if they’re voted out of office.

It would be easy to dismiss these attention-seekers as a minority of the Republican Party, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Conspiracy theories like QAnon pervade the party, and a recent CNN poll showed that a shocking 70 percent of Republicans still don’t believe Biden was legitimately elected president. The Republican Party writ large is moving closer, not farther, from evidence-free, performative assertions like The Big Lie. “Owning the Libs” is now more important than engaging in policy discussions, as demonstrated by the most recent COVID relief bill, which garnered an astonishing zero Republican supporters in Congress despite being popular nationwide. Instead, Republican legislators would rather spend their time addressing wedge issues like so-called “cancel culture,” defending cops who murder unarmed suspects, and spreading disinformation about Biden’s policy proposals.

There’s a reason for this. It’s because Republicans’ proposals are not popular. A majority of Americans was not clamoring for the repeal of Obamacare. A majority of Americans is not positively giddy at the repeal of the estate tax. In fact, the 2017 tax bill was deeply unpopular. In fact, even Republican voters support increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund more government services. So it’s hard to propose legislation that even your own voters don’t want. This is why Republican legislators are against a lot of things, but propose no ideas of their own and instead spend their days frightening and lying to their constituents, hoping that will be enough to disguise their lack of any real governing agenda.

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