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Opinion Democrats need a crash course in political jiujitsu

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks during a news conference at the Capitol on Thursday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After months of campaigning on inflation, the border and crime, Republicans made clear last week that the top priority of their new House majority will be — checks notes — investigating Hunter Biden.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear that he has no interest in taking the debt ceiling off the table as a potential Republican hostage. Asked last week about making a deal to increase the debt ceiling during the lame-duck session, he responded, “I don’t think the debt limit issue is until sometime next year.” In other words, prepare for Republicans to drive the country right to the brink of default.

You might think a wild goose chase to vilify Hunter Biden would be politically tone deaf after an election in which voters rebuked MAGA conspiracists. And you might wonder how risking default would improve the lives of voters, thereby benefiting Republicans in 2024. But your confusion just means you live outside the right-wing media bubble in which fake scandals, appearances on Fox News and feigned outrage are the coin of the realm. (Disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor.) Just because Republicans won the House majority doesn’t mean they are suddenly going to develop an interest in governing.

Democrats, rather than fretting about the GOP’s coming schemes, need a better strategy. They should look at this moment as the opening bell of the 2024 campaign to take back the House. Call it political jiujitsu — or the “I told you so” strategy.

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First, President Biden should never respond to the conspiracy theories that House Republicans serve up about his family. He must remain disciplined. His preferred response should be, “I love my son. This is crackpot MAGA stuff.” And when Republicans concoct their spurious scandals, the administration would be wise to assign a mid-level communications staffer (certainly not the White House press secretary) to respond to questions from the media. Everyone else from the president on down can roll their eyes and make clear they aren’t going to dignify the Republicans’ allegations with responses.

Second, the president and senior Democrats should not miss the opportunity to point out that — lo and behold! — Republicans have no proposals to fight inflation, little to offer on securing the border (other than building a useless wall) and no ideas to address crime, education, climate or much of anything. Biden was successful in raising the key question during the midterm campaign: What are Republicans for? He would be wise to keep pounding away. Voters should have no doubt: If they want the government to work on their problems, they cannot leave Republicans in charge.

In that vein, Biden can make a series of offers that Republicans should have no reason to reject: more spending for crime fighting; tougher laws to protect public officials from threats; and more money for border security and to speed up immigration courts. If Republicans cannot take “yes” for an answer, Biden should not shy from pointing out that the GOP isn’t tough on crime or illegal immigration. And if Republicans want to give big tax cuts to big corporations, well, Democrats can mock their pretension to be economic populists.

Third, the White House and congressional Democrats should strive to create a sharp contrast in tone and attitude with Republicans. In contrast to raving Republicans, Democrats should be calm, disciplined and logical. During committee hearings, they should focus on facts — or the lack thereof to support Republican claims. Whether in floor debates or news conferences, a tone of disgust and sadness can be far more effective than fighting GOP insults with insults.

Finally, outside groups aligned with Democrats should go on offense. Facts First USA, a new group headed by Democratic operative and activist David Brock, can do much of the heavy lifting. The New York Times reports on a memo from the group that “details a $5 million-a-year ‘SWAT team to counter Republican congressional investigations,’ including on issues that ‘may be too personal or delicate for the White House to be responding or to even be seen as directing a response’ — an apparent reference to Hunter Biden.” Another group, the Congressional Integrity Project, will also operate a “war room.” Both should also remind voters of the role Republicans played in the coup attempt after the 2020 election.

In sum, Democrats would be wise to use Republicans’ nuttiness against them. They should keep the president far from the fray, focus on the nation’s problems and allow House Democrats and outside groups to deal with the Freedom Caucus’s smear campaigns.

One thing you can bet on: Republicans will be every bit as unhinged as Biden warned voters they would be. By 2024, voters should have had their fill of MAGA hysterics.

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