As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, Republicans are waking as if from a four-year dream, rubbing their eyes and discovering anew the principles they used to pretend to believe in and now will again.

Among them: Every one of the president’s nominees should be considered guilty until proven innocent, with innocent defined as deferential to the opposition party. Every executive order is a tyrannical affront to the Constitution. Congressional oversight of the president should be obsessive to a Benghazian degree. And of course, deficits are a mortal threat to the country and require brutal cuts to government spending.

The Republican Party, which has shown itself to be comprehensively incapable of governing responsibly, will now pose as the guardians of responsible governing. If Democrats respond the way they usually do — by charging hypocrisy — they’ll continue to struggle.

Instead, they need to mount an aggressive, uncompromising attack on the GOP. Because the problem is not what Republicans are saying; it’s what they’re about to do.

The public needs to understand that at this moment of extraordinary crisis — when so much damage has already been done by President Trump — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are preparing to sabotage the country in order to gain political advantage from the destruction they cause.

The MAGA march on D.C. showed Trump supporters are not a monolith, but their dedication to the president is singular. (The Washington Post)

Let’s focus on the economic front, since that’s where the most urgency now lies, and where Republicans are being so comically transparent:

GOP senators say they expect to refocus on curbing the nation’s debt and reforming entitlement programs starting in 2021, as the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the debt has surpassed the size of the American economy.
“I think that’s kind of getting back to our DNA. ... I think spending, entitlement reform, growth and the economy are all things that we’re going to have to be focused on next year, and, yeah, I would expect you’ll hear a lot more about that,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Just to decode Thune’s remarks for you: “Spending” means cutting spending, “entitlement reform” means cuts to programs such as food stamps and Medicaid, and “growth and the economy” means hampering growth and sabotaging the economy.

Republicans are even suggesting that next year they’ll use the debt ceiling to extract spending cuts — they will threaten to default on America’s debts and potentially create a worldwide financial crisis, all to make sure the government doesn’t help too many people in need.

It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how reckless and irresponsible that is, which is why if Democrats take control of the Senate they should acknowledge that the debt ceiling is nothing but a tool of Republican blackmail and simply pass legislation to write it out of existence.

But that’s a discussion for another day. What matters now is this: Democrats need to forget about calling Republicans hypocrites and focus on the damage they’re trying to do.

We all know that Republicans are indeed hypocrites when it comes to debt and deficits. They eagerly run them up in order to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, or to goose the economy when a Republican is in the White House, then turn around and pretend to care deeply about debt when a Democrat takes office.

But they’re so shameless about it precisely because they’ve always understood what Democrats don’t: Voters don’t care about hypocrisy. You can shout it until you’re blue in the face, and as a political matter it won’t make a shred of difference.

So what should Democrats say instead? They need to make clear that Republicans want Biden’s presidency to fail, and to make it happen they’re attacking the American economy. They want to take food off families’ tables, force cutbacks in state and local services, make it harder for businesses to open safely, and create a vicious cycle of austerity from Washington and anemic recovery in the rest of the country, in the hope that Americans will blame Biden for all of it.

Refusing to authorize a new stimulus is an attack on the American economy. Trying to limit that stimulus to far less than what is needed is an attack on the American economy. Threatening blackmail is an attack on the American economy.

When Democratic politicians respond to these attacks by saying “These hypocrites were perfectly happy to run up deficits to give a tax cut to the rich,” they’re telling the truth, but it sounds like just more Washington bickering about the proper rules of rhetoric that’s disconnected from people’s lives.

That’s why McConnell — long the most unpopular politician in America — is only too happy to have Democrats waste time talking about hypocrisy. His goal is not only to sabotage the economy and destroy the Biden presidency, but to get most people to just blame it on “Washington.”

As in: “Washington doesn’t care about us” or “Washington would rather argue than solve problems.” When that’s what people believe, they either apportion responsibility equally or just blame the president.

But the problem is not “Washington”; it’s the Republican Party. And it has never been more the problem than it is about to be.

And all this applies to every kind of Republican obstruction, including their coming refusal to confirm Biden’s nominees. Much as it might be satisfying to talk about the grifters and incompetents Republicans gleefully confirmed to Trump’s administration, the point now isn’t what happened then; it’s that Republicans will be holding up Biden’s picks in order to prevent the administration from solving problems.

But Democrats can’t just say, “Gee, I wish Americans would understand that.” They have to make them understand.

So when Republicans start talking about deficits, it should be greeted with derision, contempt and outrage — not over their hypocrisy, but because of what they’re trying to do to the country. Every Republican who says a word about deficits should be hit with “Why are you trying to undermine the economy? Why don’t you want people to have jobs? How many Americans’ livelihoods are you willing to destroy just to knock down Biden’s approval ratings a few points? Is this what you were elected to do? How dare you?”

Those are the questions they should be made to answer.

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