But what if the strategy is even more radical this time? What if Republicans have calculated that they can take back at least one chamber of Congress, grinding President Joe Biden’s agenda to a halt, even if Biden largely succeeds?
Republicans may well be fully expecting Democrats to pass a series of economic rescue and stimulus proposals — all on their own — that actually do get the economy booming again, even as the vaccine rollout and other policies successfully tame the pandemic.
Yet in this scenario, Republicans still know that even if this happens, they still have a good chance at recapturing the House at a minimum, helped along by a combination of voter suppression and other counter-majoritarian tactics and built-in advantages.
On Friday, House Democrats are set to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion package, which includes $1,400 payments to individuals, extended unemployment assistance, tens of billions of dollars to fight the pandemic and facilitate reopening schools, and much more.
By all indications, virtually every House Republican will vote against the plan. It will move to the Senate, where there are complications, but much of the package will probably pass in a similar form. And just about all Senate Republicans will vote against that, too.
Obviously, Republicans can genuinely oppose this package on principle. But what’s striking is that many Republicans aren’t even trying to make a strong, intellectually grounded argument.
It’s as if they know they don’t have to — and know they can recapture power without doing so.
Republicans cede the economic debate
There are numerous signs of this. First, who is today’s Paul Ryan? Back in 2009, the then-congressman made a very public case against a stimulus a fraction this big, making an actual argument (if a fraudulent one) about what debt Armageddon would mean for American society.
These days it’s harder to make that case. Republicans blew up the deficit with a huge tax cut for the rich, and cheered along as the pre-covid economy was rocket-fueled with stimulus. Economists no longer fear the long-term risks of massive deficit spending amid big crises.
As a result, there’s nothing close to the same kind of public argument this time. As Paul Krugman points out:
Who’s the face of Republican opposition to the American Rescue Plan? Nobody comes to mind.Put it this way: Republicans appear to be losing the economic argument in part because they aren’t even bothering to show up.
Again, it’s as if they know they don’t have to.
Republicans punt on child tax credit
Now consider the battle over the child tax credit. The Biden package includes a provision that will send at least $3,000 per child to most families, in monthly installments for one year.
In this case, one Republican — Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — has seriously engaged the debate, offering his own child tax credit that would be universal and permanent (but offset by spending cuts elsewhere).
The Romney proposal is perfectly tailored for congressional Republicans to adopt. They could use it to negotiate to put their own big stamp on the Biden package — and take credit for it.
But they aren’t doing this. Even the supposed populist Republicans have dismissed it as “welfare,” reverting to Ryan-esque arguments that cast safety-net programs as debilitating.
As Samuel Hammond and David Koggan point out, Republicans are squandering a major opportunity to demonstrate how “conservative principles” can co-opt the “pro-family, pro-working class high ground.” Running on this could be a “huge winner” for GOP candidates in 2022.
Say it with me this time: It’s as if they know they don’t have to. Why might this be?
A more radicalized opposition
As all this is happening, Republicans are racing forward with an extraordinary array of new voter suppression efforts. Such measures are advancing in Georgia, Florida and Iowa, and in many other states.
In a good roundup of all these new efforts, Ari Berman notes:
After record turnout in 2020, Republican-controlled states appear to be in a race to the bottom to see who can pass the most egregious new barriers to voting.
On top of that, Republicans are openly boasting that their ability to take back the House next year will gain a big lift from extreme gerrymanders. Some experts believe they can do that even if Democrats win the national House popular vote by a margin similar to that of 2020.
It’s hard to know how direct the relationship is between the GOP’s ceding of the field in the economic debate on one hand, and the party’s increasing commitment to rigging electoral maps and making it harder to vote on the other.
But this confluence does suggest a more radicalized approach to opposition than in 2009. As I recount in my book, it wasn’t until after the GOP’s 2010 sweep of state legislatures across the country that Republicans undertook the massive spate of voter suppression efforts that characterized the past decade.
Since then, we’ve seen Republicans again win the White House while losing the popular vote; the installation of two Supreme Court justices via scorched-earth procedural warfare; widespread GOP support for an effort to overturn a national election; a GOP president trying to make that happen by fomenting mob violence; and in the aftermath of it all, a large doubling down on counter-majoritarian tactics.
So is there any reason to doubt that they’re primarily counting on more of the same as their path back to power this time?