Can Republicans win by just saying no?

In the 1946 midterm elections, Republicans united around a simple but powerful mantra: “Enough? »

The slogan was the brainchild of Karl Frost, an advertising executive in Boston. In short, he promised to reject both New Deal liberalism and the monopoly of power that Democrats had held in Washington since the 1930s.

It helped Republicans that the economy was in chaos. World War II had just ended, and supply chains went haywire as the United States emerged from wartime price controls. Thousands of workers went on strike. Meat was rare and expensive — so much so that Republican candidates were patrolling city streets in trucks shouting the message: “Ladies, if you want meat, vote Republican.” They slapped President Harry Truman with the nickname “Horsemeat Harry”.

“This is going to be a fucking beef election!” Sam Rayburn, the Democratic Speaker of the House, fumed privately. On Election Day, Truman’s approval rating was fair 33 percent. Republicans won 55 seats in the House and 12 in the Senate, taking power for the first time since 1932.

“It was so bad for Truman that people were saying he had to quit,” said Jeffrey Frank, author of “The Trials of Harry S. Truman.”

It was the year a young Richard Nixon won his first congressional election, beating a five-term Democratic incumbent in suburban Los Angeles by running against New Deal “socialism” and for what he called “the forgotten man”. His campaign materials asked, “Are you happy with the current conditions? Can you buy meat, a new car, a refrigerator, the clothes you need? »

What is old becomes new again.

Inflation is on the rise, some goods are hard to come by, and Democrats are eyeing similar annihilation in November. And Republicans, as our colleague Jonathan Weisman reports today, are debating availability about their own plans. Senator Rick Scott, head of the Republican Senate campaign arm, has an 11-point plan to “save America.” House Republicans are working on their “Commitment to America” a political and strategic program which they plan to publish at the end of the summer. And today, Mike Pence, the former vice president, unveiled a 28-page article “Freedom Program” Platform.

Some Republicans argue that none of this is really necessary. All they need to do to win back power is point out voters’ frustrations with high gas and grocery prices and say, essentially, have you had enough?

“It’s not rocket science,” said Corry Bliss, a Republican strategist. “The midterm elections are a referendum on one thing and one thing only: Joe Biden and the failed leadership of the Democrats. Period. End of the conversation.”

Democrats are eager to turn the election this fall into a choice between the two parties rather than a referendum on their own performance.

At times, President Biden has tried to convince Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, to set the party’s agenda. “The fundamental question is, what is Mitch for? What is it for immigration? What is it used for ? What does it offer? Biden said in late January, adding, “What are they for? So everything is a choice. A choice.”

McConnell never took the bait. He said his goal is “100%” on “stopping this new administration” and avoided presenting ideas that Democrats might be able to attack.

“The fundamentals of a midterm election: It’s about the governing party,” said Zack Roday, a Republican strategist who works on multiple Senate campaigns. “McConnell understands this better than anyone in the last 15 years.”

Democrats have therefore embraced Scott’s plan like a man drowning in a lifeline, underscoring his call for every American to have “skin in the game” by paying taxes and accusing him of wanting to reduce the health insurance and social security. Senate Democrats are leading a paid ad on Scott’s plan this week in major swing states, and on Thursday they bought geo-targeted advertising around the Heritage Foundation in Washington, during a speech Scott gave to the conservative think tank.

It is one article of faith among many on the right that the 1994 “Deal with America” led by Newt Gingrich was responsible for the Republican takeover of Congress that year. But Republicans in the Senate, led by Bob Dole of Kansas, never passed it, when polls at the time showed that only a minority of voters had ever heard of the idea. Democrats would later exploit Gingrich’s unpopularity to win seats in the 1998 midterm elections, a rare win for the president’s party.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who hopes to become Speaker of the House, agrees with Scott’s view that a plan is needed, although they may differ on specifics. During the recent political retreat of House Republicans, McCarthy explained his hope to present Biden with legislation “so strong that it could overcome all the politics the others are playing.”

To which Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a key McCarthy ally, added: “I think it’s very simple: you can’t do what you said if you didn’t say what you said. would do.”

As a political strategy, however, no plan is probably worth a plan.

“If I were the Republicans, I would just be critical rather than specific about my remedies, unfortunately,” said Republican Party historian Geoffrey Kabaservice.

Michael Barone, founding editor of the Almanac of American Politics, said he expects Republicans to win back the House and “probably” the Senate, regardless of the specifics of their plans. A political program, he said, is more important in determining “how you want to govern” once in power.

For today’s Republican leaders, being in power poses a dilemma in itself. If they win one or both branches of Congress, the Democrats can rely on a playbook made famous by the same president who was so humiliated by the slogan “Enough?” in 1946.

Two years after his midterm beating, Truman staged a comeback often hailed as the greatest in American political history, using the “Congress of Inaction” as its political foil.

Never mind that Congress was extraordinarily productive, passing over 900 bills including landmark legislation such as the Marshall Plan and the Taft-Hartley Act. Four months before Election Day, with his job approval rating stuck in the 30s, Truman took offense.

“He had only one strategy – attack, attack, attack,” writes David McCullough, another Truman biographer.

At campaign stops, Truman called Republicans “bloodsuckers” and a “group of old Mossbacks still living in 1890”. During an appearance in Roseville, Calif., he said “the idle Congress tried to choke you to death in this valley.” In Fresno, Calif., he said, “You have a terrible congressman here in this district. He is one of the worst. And in Iowa, he said the Republican Congress had “stabbed the farmer in the back.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

  • Biden has announced he will tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve again, report Clifford Krauss and Michael D. Shear, in an effort to lower gasoline prices for American consumers.

  • A federal judge in Florida has ruled sections of the state’s election law unconstitutional, the first federal court decision striking down key parts of a major Republican election law since the 2020 election, reports Reid J. Epstein and Patricia Mazzei.

  • According to Alan Feuer, Katie Benner and Maggie Haberman, the Justice Department has broadened its investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to encompass the possible involvement of other government officials.

  • Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has announced that he will vote against confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, reports Annie Karni.

  • Some North Carolina voters think Rep. Madison Cawthorn has finally gone too far, Cawthorn District’s Trip Gabriel reports.

Framework

There’s a lot of doom and gloom across America, something Republican campaigns have leveraged to try to persuade voters to change the status quo and oust Democrats from Congress.

That leaves Democrats with a tough decision: Understand voter struggles or offer an entirely different narrative?

In Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat who is re-elected this year, appears to be taking the second approach. In his first announcement of the cycle, he paints a sunny picture, smiling as he strolls through suburban neighborhoods and chats with voters. He boasts of having turned the state deficit into a surplus, while lowering taxes and investing in schools.

“A balanced budget, lower taxes – our state is strong and growing stronger,” Lamont tells the camera.

It’s a stark departure from a Democratic ad we highlighted last month from Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, in which the sun was noticeably absent. Or another Democratic ad Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona began running in late February that acknowledged “families are working hard to get by right now.”

Governors might have a little more room to highlight state and local accomplishments than members of Congress. Yet in trying to prove they have improved conditions since the coronavirus pandemic began, Democrats may run the risk of appearing out of touch with the daily struggles of their constituents.

Thanks for reading. Well see you tomorrow.

— Blake and Leah

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