House GOP’s August strategy: Americans ‘Better Off Now’

House GOP’s August strategy: Americans ‘Better Off Now’
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Incumbent presidents usually try to win a coveted second term by asking voters, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

House Republicans have embraced a version of that game plan for this summer and perhaps into the fall.

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GOP lawmakers left the House Republican Conference meeting Tuesday equipped with a folder filled with key talking points just days before they leave town for the August recess to campaign back home.

Their “Better Off Now” messaging effort, officially unveiled earlier this week, largely centers around tax reform and the economy, “safer communities” and strengthening the military. It’s a mantra that Republicans are banking on to retain control of the House, which most independent handicappers say is a 50-50 proposition at best.

“After historic tax reform, unemployment is at historic lows, job openings are at record highs, paychecks are growing, and wages are rising, right along with economic optimism. We have made significant investments to combat the opioid crisis, end human trafficking, target dangerous criminals, and make schools safer,” stated a memo handed to members.

“We have launched historic rebuilding of our military, raised pay for our troops, and reformed the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to provide better care to our veterans. These are results, not rhetoric.”

The GOP’s new rallying cry for 2018 is an extension of its 2016 “A Better Way” message.

Democrats are unimpressed.

“It’s laughable that the messaging gurus in the Republican Party think a half-baked #rebrand will change their image as a bunch of 1920’s cartoon robber barons,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement to The Hill. “Let’s be honest: no one believes that the American people are better off after Republicans made healthcare more expensive and gave trillions in handouts to corporations to be funded with cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

Midterm elections are almost always a referendum on the president. And in a good sign for Democrats, President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE’s poll numbers have been mired between the high 30s and mid-40s.

Democrats last week proposed a new election message: “For the People.” This came after their “A Better Deal” slogan attracted some criticism when it was released in 2017.

Congressional Republicans are hoping that the midterms will be a referendum on the economy, which has steadily improved since the 2016 election. After a disappointing first half of 2017, Republicans on Capitol Hill maintain they have a lot to boast about this fall, most notably the sweeping tax-reform law.

Yet, polling on the law has been lukewarm, sparking a debate within the GOP on how much vulnerable incumbents should talk about it on the campaign trail.

Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversRep. Steve King pushes GOP to reinstate his committee assignments GOP lawmakers offer several locations for Trump address House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in addition to touting the nation’s economic growth, he plans to highlight how things would change if Democrats take back the lower chamber. He noted a large majority of House Democrats voted “present” on a nonbinding resolution expressing support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) amid a push from far-left Democrats to abolish the agency.

“Obviously, it’s all about a good contrast and, you know, they have shown what they’re about the last few weeks and the last few days,” he said. “[Most Democrats] voted not to support our immigration enforcement that has prevented human trafficking, that has kept drugs from getting to our citizens and made sure that our borders are secure from bad people that want to get across — terrorists and others.”

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerPartnerships paving the way to sustain and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities Lawmaker seeks to ban ex-members from lobbying until sexual harassment settlements repaid Florida governor suspends Palm Beach County elections supervisor MORE (N.C.) said drawing a comparison between parties is an important component to their messaging strategy.

“It is basically just talking about, from a conference standpoint, that we are better off now and here’s the specificities of lower taxes, higher economic numbers and that’s obviously one of the main thrusts of it. If you want to go politically, we can talk about what the Democrats want to do, which is raise taxes and abolish ICE,” he said.

Another key facet of the Republican game plan is going after House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDonald Trump proved himself by winning fight for border security Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season MORE (D-Calif.), who would be the odds-on favorite to become Speaker if the House flips.

Despite Democrats’ attacks on the GOP over Trump’s comments on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election during his press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, Republicans remain confident the topic won’t play a major role in the midterms.

“There’s a lot of distractions out there in the world and there’s always a shiny ball that people can run to. But I got to tell you, in the districts that I’m getting reports back on — and I can speak from back at home — people are still focused on their own pocketbook, they’re focused on their economic prospects, they’re focused on the direction of the country,” Stivers said.

Walker pointed out Trump’s polling didn’t dip after his remarks during the summit with Putin.

“I don’t think that it was mentioned a single time [Tuesday in conference],” he said.

Republicans have expressed reservations about Trump’s tariffs, saying they could be problematic in the fall.

“You know, I’ve heard from a few constituents that are very concerned — farmers and others. I know a lot of our members that have heard from people that are concerned,” Stivers said. “I don’t think it’s at a crisis level now, and I think many of us, including me, are urging the president to negotiate and get this done because I don’t think a trade war is in anybody’s benefit.”

Rep. Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupKey doctors group faces political risks on guns GOP announces members who will serve on House intel panel CNN host pushes back on GOP lawmaker’s claim: ‘Hold on, diseases are not pouring into the country' MORE (R-Ohio), who represents a district that Trump won by 16 points in 2016, said he also heard from constituents on tariffs.

“Well, it’s been interesting at home with a lot of those who are affected by it, particularly by farmers, and they say, ‘We’re OK with it as long as there’s a good result. We’re still with the president. We do worry, will we get our business back that we may potentially lose?’ ” 

The 2018 election cycle is gearing up to be contentious, but Stivers said he’s optimistic about their odds of holding on to the majority.

“I feel pretty good. You know, there’s still a lot of green between here and there, but I feel good about our chances,” he said.

Melanie Zanona contributed.