Republican Party’s priorities and playbook are hidden in plain view

In the summer of 2020, for the first time in its history, the Republican Party National Convention resolved to adjourn without adopting a new platform. In a non sequitur justification, the resolution declared, “parties abide by their policy priorities rather than their political rhetoric.”

The GOP, a veteran party professional opined, agreed only about “owning the libs, pissing off the media,” and embracing cultural wedge issues. In a closely contested presidential race, he implied, Republicans did not want to highlight internal differences or endorse policies that were unpopular with voters.

With Republicans poised to regain control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, party leaders are pursuing the same strategy in 2022. “I know our voters are really focused on what our plans are if we govern,” said RNC chair Ronna McDaniel. “But we have to win to do anything.” Asked about a 2023 GOP agenda, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) replied, “That is a very good question and I’ll let you know when we take [the Senate] back.”

But Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has recently upset what he seems to regard as the silence of Republican lambs. The GOP’s priorities and its playbook are now hidden in plain sight.

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018 after two terms as governor of Florida, Scott is the chair of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. In February 2022, he issued an 11-Point “Plan to Rescue America.” He is “defying beltway cowardice,” Scott maintains, because American voters “deserve to know what we will do when given the chance to govern.”

Every page of the plan repeats the same inflammatory warning: Sinister forces on the militant left “plan to change or destroy … American history, patriotism, border security, Christianity, the nuclear family, gender, traditional morality, capitalism, fiscal responsibility, opportunity, rugged individualism, the Judeo-Christian ethic, dissent, free speech, color blindness, law enforcement, religious liberty, parental involvement in public schools, and private ownership of firearms.”

Scott promises that a federal government controlled by Republicans will defeat them. They will insure that public schools do not “indoctrinate children with Critical Race Theory or any other political ideology;” prohibit all federal agencies from asking people to disclose their race, ethnicity, skin color, or gender preference; ban biological males from competing in women’s sports; mandate “ZERO diversity training” by the military; stop government officials from “pretending that crime is OK;” have “zero tolerance for ‘mostly peaceful protests’ that attack police officers, loot businesses, and burn down our cities;” “secure our borders, finish building the wall, and name it after President Trump,” and oppose “all comprehensive immigration reform measures until the border is secure.” Democrats, Scott claims, “are not merely secular,” they have “created a new religion of wokeness that is increasingly hostile toward people of faith, especially Christians and Jews,” and refuse to accept what “modern technology has confirmed: abortion kills human children.”

Scott was the CEO of Columbia/HCA immediately before it was fined $1.7 billion for overbilling and defrauding Medicare and Medicaid; Scott says he took “responsibility” for the company’s conduct — that’s disputed; what isn’t is the fact he invoked the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination 75 times during subsequent court proceedings.

With a net worth of about $232 million, Scott is the wealthiest member of the Senate, a fierce opponent of government regulation, apparently unperturbed by the great and growing gap between the rich and everyone else in the United States.

Scott’s policy prescriptions for the American economy reflect these values: limiting government assistance to those who are disabled or are aggressively seeking work; requiring every American to pay some income tax “to have skin in the game;” mandating that all federal legislation sunset in five years; cutting Internal Revenue Service funding and workforce by 50 percent.

Republicans, it is worth noting, have not criticized Scott’s culture wars rhetoric. After all, his identity politics dog whistles are right out of the playbook that turned out the MAGA base in 2016, 2020, and the off-year 2021 elections.

Many Republican leaders, however, are uncomfortable with Scott’s economic agenda. Not because they disagree with him, it seems clear, but because his proposals are likely to turn off independents and some Republican voters.

The vast majority of Americans want to protect, not sunset, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Democrats will, no doubt, also remind voters that families making $54,000 or less — virtually all of whom do pay Social Security, Medicare, and sales taxes — would pay 80 percent of the income tax Scott proposes. Limiting government assistance to the disabled and those who are aggressively seeking work, moreover, will harm millions of children. Cutting the IRS will make it even easier for wealthy people — the principal beneficiaries of Trump tax cuts and lots of loopholes — to avoid paying their fair share.

Scott maintains, apparently with a straight face, that Democrats are “trying to rig elections” because “they don’t believe they can win based on their ideas.”

Having long abandoned any pretense to their role as the “loyal opposition,” Scott’s Republican colleagues, however, appear to fear that if — and it’s a big if — the 2022 and 2024 contests are a referendum on policies that actually affect the lives of the vast majority of Americans, the Democrats just might produce November surprises.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags 2022 midterm elections GOP Mitch McConnell Republican Party Republican platform Rick Scott

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