That eight-minute appearance encapsulated much of the GOP’s struggle to define President Biden’s agenda. According to Republican thinking, Biden and his congressional allies are pushing an unnecessarily big-spending slate of legislation that is risking the first major bout of inflation in more than four decades.
But these Republicans, particularly those in the Senate, have not been able to break through to much of America with that particular note, unable to place much political pressure on Democrats who are wavering on these proposals.
Support for Biden’s $2 trillion spending plan on roads, bridges and other infrastructure ranged in April, the last time it was reliably polled, from 49 percent approval in a Fox News poll to 68 percent approval in a Monmouth survey. But every poll shows support levels well above those not approving of that kind of mega-spending plan.
Republicans have tried to beat the drum against the Biden agenda. For weeks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has hammered away, echoing the critique from Larry Summers, former top economic adviser to the Clinton and Obama administrations, that the pandemic relief package spent way too much money and could prompt an inflation run.
But that message has, so far, been largely drowned out, especially in the conservative media echo chamber that is intensely focused on cultural issues that spark outrage and help ratings but do little to help win elections.
“Have we not been able to break through on the message in the broader way? No, we haven’t,” Cramer said Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours before his Newsmax interview shifted into a discussion of critical race theory at the Pentagon.
Cramer’s best advice is to be patient, especially because the economic trend lines will settle in over the summer and fall.
“Inflation becomes its own issue, eventually, when it starts hitting people’s pocketbooks,” he said. “If there’s anything to worry about, it’s this sense that something has to happen instantly for it to be effective. And I reject that.”
Senate Republicans have stepped up their messaging operation this year, their first in the minority since 2014, aware that they can no longer use the floor schedule as their vehicle for pushing an agenda.
In addition to the weekly Tuesday news conference, led by McConnell, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has kicked off events with other rank-and-file Republicans before the microphones. It’s an attempt to “counterprogram” a Washington where Democrats control Congress and the White House.
Barrasso, the third-highest-ranking Senate Republican, hosts these news events after GOP lunches on Wednesday and Thursday each week, with more than 60 percent of the caucus participating so far.
Internal estimates are that half of these news conferences have pushed economic messages, such as the inflation threat and a poor jobs report released in early May, while the rest have focused on issues ranging from the Israel-Hamas war and the release of emails from Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert.
Republicans acknowledge that some events drive a message to base voters already inclined to be in their corner, as demonstrated by Thursday’s news conference about increased concerns that the coronavirus may have emanated from a Chinese lab leak.
So far they are having less impact than their GOP predecessors did 12 years ago as the Obama administration came to power amid the Wall Street crash. That 2009 stimulus proposal, worth nearly $800 billion, was viewed favorably by voters initially, but much less so than Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
And Barack Obama’s second major initiative, the Affordable Care Act, quickly ran into trouble. By July 2009, just 44 percent of voters approved of his handling of health-care issues, while 50 percent disapproved, according to Gallup.
That set the stage for a long slog to pass health legislation that only fed into the GOP message machine, turning the 2010 midterms into a Democratic debacle.
“We were more vocal about that,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who won his Senate seat in 2010, said of the unified Republican focus back then.
Of course, it’s harder to build a message against big government spending after the Trump administration oversaw a roughly $9 trillion jump in the federal debt, with 2020 spending hitting new levels to battle the twin health and economic crises.
“We also hadn’t just come through anything like the pandemic impact on the economy,” Blunt said, contrasting today’s environment with the Wall Street crisis.
Still, Republicans are eager to run that 2009-2010 playbook again without any apologies for their previous deficit-busting record.
“Even if you’re paying attention, it’s hard to keep track of all the numbers flying around Washington, D.C., right now. Despite our national debt approaching $30 trillion, President Biden and Congressional Democrats are proposing trillions more in taxpayer spending,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) wrote Friday in an op-ed distributed to her state.
But the conservative media have little interest in these topics.
About 50 seconds into the six-minute interview, a Fox host shifted to the latest tweets from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
The GOP leader chuckled and tried to move on, referring to the liberal Fox viewers love to hate only as “that particular member of Congress.”
He again called for bipartisan legislation, as the next question focused on the state of the filibuster and whether Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) might switch parties.
“At the risk of continuing to repeat myself,” McConnell interjected, a sure sign that he wanted to refocus the conversation.
Some Republicans fear that as long as their conservative echo chamber focuses on cultural issues, it will give Biden room to shore up support among independent voters who will decide the next few elections.
In the late April poll from Fox, voters overwhelmingly supported Biden’s plan to finance his expansive agenda: 63 percent backed raising taxes on those making more than $400,000 while just 33 percent opposed it.
For now, Cramer and other Republicans are just hoping the public will see the same economic trends they see now.
“Stay on the message. As long as it’s true, keep repeating it,” he said. “Then when people start seeing it for real, when they start seeing that it’s costing them 20 percent more to fill their gas tank or 40 percent more to buy groceries, it’ll become its own message.”