Republicans’ two biggest political liabilities right now are their Jan. 6 denialism and their gross negligence on the pandemic. Indeed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has picked up on this in their battleground district polling and is now encouraging Democratic candidates to highlight GOP disinformation about both vaccines and the insurrection. (The polling also showed Democrats aren’t connecting enough with voters on the economy and touting Biden’s agenda.)
When it comes to the insurrection, congressional Republicans are in a real bind. There’s just no way for them to say anything that satisfies Trump’s cultists without alienating swingy suburban voters who don’t spend all their days freebasing right-wing sludge from outlets like Fox News and social media. At this point, as many as 80% of GOP voters believe the Big Lie, just 5% of them deem Trump mostly responsible for the Capitol attack, and GOP support for punishing the attackers has dropped considerably since January.
To make matters worse, McCarthy and several of his closes allies, such as Rep. Jim Jordan, could also be called testify in the congressional investigation of the siege, making the topic both personally and politically dicey. Unfortunately for him, ejecting reporters from press conferences and claiming blanket ignorance about the select committee’s proceedings are short-term solutions to a long-term problem that only worsens as more information about Trump’s attempted coup emerges.
But for now, every time congressional Republicans in swing states and districts get a Jan. 6-related question, expect to see “Danger! Danger!” expressions sweep across their faces. The only reality-based House Republicans who don’t live in fear of those questions are the two sitting on the panel: Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
The other issue dogging congressional Republicans and some GOP governors is the rapid rise in COVID-19 infections ripping through red America. For months, Republicans had the luxury of being part of the pandemic problem while Democrats labored to offer real-word solutions such as financial relief and a nationwide vaccination program.
But now that vaccinated Americans—roughly 70% of U.S. adults—have grown exasperated with the unvaccinated Republicans driving most of the delta variant surge, GOP lawmakers have switched into overdrive to escape culpability.
As a rule, Republicans never promote public health for the sake of public health. So when right-wing Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana turns his belated July vaccination into a photo-op and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky spends campaign funds to promote vaccines, it’s definitely a hair-on-fire moment for Republicans.
The urgency is two-fold. First, voters are ticked off about the delta setback and looking for answers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the states driving the bulk of the new infections and conclude that Republican lawmakers and their voters are the problem. Second, if Republicans can gaslight enough people into believing GOP lawmakers reasonably backed vaccinations, then they can blame President Biden for failing to get the pandemic under control.
To be clear, failing to regain control of the pandemic does pose a political risk to Biden since it’s the No. 1 job voters hired him to do. And even though it’s Republican governors in GOP-dominant states that are undermining Biden’s efforts right now, voters aren’t always rational when it comes to accountability.
But it’s still Republicans who have the bigger hill to climb here since anyone with a grip on reality knows who’s at fault for stoking vaccine hesitancy and imposing heavy-handed bans on pandemic mitigation efforts.
The bigger task for most congressional Republicans right now is convincing Americans that they aren’t a party of extremists. That is proving exceedingly difficult after they gifted their party to Donald Trump and must now cater to its fringes while attempting to appear palatable enough to earn the votes of anti-Trump conservatives.
Democrats seem to understand the enormity of the political bind Republicans are in on the pandemic and Jan. 6. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been publicly marginalizing House Republicans as a party too “moronic” to be worthy of her time.
President Biden adopted a similar posture on the pandemic this week, telling GOP governors, “Please help. But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way.”
Biden’s earnest plea came in the context of the life-and-death dilemma he is facing as president to protect the health of Americans and save lives. But his blunt remarks were certain to draw the ire of a blowhard like Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is presently presiding over the worst outbreak in the nation.
DeSantis predictably fired back at Biden. “Why don’t you do your job? Why don’t you get this border secure?” DeSantis said, trying to turn the state’s dire public health crisis into an immigration issue. Apparently, DeSantis wants Biden to secure Florida’s border to the north with Alabama and Georgia since his state is surrounded by water in every other direction.
When Biden was later asked about DeSantis’ fiery response, he merely quipped, “Governor who?” before breaking into a grin.
Like Pelosi, Biden simply doesn’t have time to waste on unserious people like Ron DeSantis, who is eagerly wagering the lives of his constituents on his chances in the GOP’s 2024 presidential sweepstakes.
Biden does need to turn the tide on delta surge. But dismissing Republicans as the radicals they are is a worthy political endeavor in and of itself. Anything they say in response only serves to further define the GOP as a party of extremists.