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Can Republicans win by simply saying no?

In the 1946 midterm election, Republicans united around a simple but powerful mantra: “Have you had enough?”

The slogan was the brainchild of Karl Frost, an advertising executive in Boston. In two brief words, it promised a rejection of 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 were falling apart as the US moved away from wartime price controls. Thousands of workers went on strike. Meat was scarce and expensive — so much so that Republican candidates patrolled city streets in trucks, booming the message, “Ladies, if you want meat, vote Republican.” They slapped President Harry Truman with the nickname “Horsemeat Harry.” “.

“It’s going to be a bloody beefsteak election!” Sam Rayburn, the Democratic House Speaker, was secretly furious. On election day, Truman’s approval rating was just 33 percent. Republicans won 55 seats in the House of Representatives and 12 in the Senate, seizing power for the first time since 1932.

“It was so bad for Truman that people said he should resign,” said Jeffrey Frank, author of The Trials of Harry S. Truman.

This was the year a young Richard Nixon won his first congressional election by defeating a five-term Democratic incumbent in suburban Los Angeles by standing against the New Deal’s “socialism” and for what he was called the “forgotten man”. His campaign literature asked: “Are you satisfied with the current conditions? Can you buy meat, a new car, fridge, clothes you need?”

What is old is new again.

Inflation is high, some goods are hard to find and Democrats are staring at a similar wipeout in November. And Republicans, as our colleague Jonathan Weisman reports today, are debating how accommodating they should be with their own plans. Senator Rick Scott, the head of the Republican Senate campaign team, has an 11-point plan to “save America.” House Republicans are working on their “Commitment to America,” a policy agenda they plan to release later this summer. And today Mike Pence, the former Vice President, unveiled a 28-page Freedom Agenda platform.

Some Republicans argue that none of this is really necessary. To regain power, all they have to do is point to voters’ frustration at high gas and food prices and essentially say, Enough?

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

Democrats are keen to make this fall’s election an election between the two parties, rather than a referendum on their own performance.

At times, President Biden has tried to get Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, to define the party’s agenda. “The fundamental question is: What is Mitch for? What is he for about immigration? what is he for What is he proposing?” 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 focus is “100 percent” on “stopping this new administration” and avoided presenting ideas that Democrats could potentially attack.

“The basics of a midterm election apply: it’s about the party in power,” said Zack Roday, a Republican strategist who works on several Senate campaigns. “McConnell understands that better than anyone in the last 15 years.”

So the Democrats have embraced Scott’s plan like a drowning man’s life preserver, underscoring his call for every American to have a “skin in the pie” by paying taxes and accusing him of wanting to cut Medicare and Social Security. Senate Democrats are running a paid ad on Scott’s plan in key swing states this week, and on Thursday they bought a geo-targeted ad near the Heritage Foundation in Washington during a speech Scott delivered to the conservative think tank.

It is an article of faith among many right-wingers that the 1994 “Treaty with America” ​​led by Newt Gingrich was responsible for this year’s Republican takeover of Congress. But Senate Republicans, led by Kansas’ Bob Dole, never adopted it, while polls at the time showed only a minority of voters had ever heard of the idea. Democrats later took advantage of Gingrich’s unpopularity to win seats at the 1998 Midterms, a rare victory for the president’s party.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to become speaker of the House of Representatives, shares Scott’s view that a plan is needed, although they may differ on the details. At the recent political retreat for House Republicans, McCarthy stated his hopes of introducing Biden to legislation “so strong it could overcome all the politics that other people are playing.”

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a key McCarthy ally, added, “I think it’s very simple: You can’t do what you said you’re going to do unless you said you’re going to do it.”

As a political strategy, however, no plan is likely to beat a plan.

“Unfortunately, if I were Republicans, I would be more critical than specific about my remedies,” said Geoffrey Kabaservice, Republican Party historian.

Michael Barone, the founding editor of the Almanac of American Politics, said he expected Republicans to win back the House and “probably” the Senate, no matter how concrete their plans. A political agenda, he said, is more important in determining “how you want to govern” once you’re in power.

For today’s Republican leaders, being in power presents a dilemma of its own. If they win one or both branches of Congress, Democrats will have a playbook made famous by the same president so humiliated by the slogan “Had enough?” in 1946.

Two years after his midterm loss, Truman made a comeback that is often hailed as the greatest in American political history, using the “do nothing Congress” as his political foil.

Never mind that Congress was extraordinarily productive, passing more than 900 bills that included landmark legislation like the Marshall Plan and the Taft-Hartley Act. Four months before Election Day, Truman went on the offensive.

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

At campaign stops, Truman gave Republicans names like “bloodsuckers” and a “bunch of old mossbacks still alive in 1890.” Speaking in Roseville, California, he said the “do-idling Congress was trying to smother you in this valley.” In Fresno, California, he said, “You have a terrible congressman here in this district. He’s one of the worst.” And in Iowa, he said the Republican Congress “rammed the farmer in the back with a pitchfork.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

  • Biden announced he would re-tap the strategic oil reserve, Clifford Krauss and Michael D. Shear report, in a bid to lower gasoline prices for American consumers.

  • A federal judge in Florida said portions of the state’s election law were unconstitutional, the first federal court ruling to strike down key portions of a key Republican election law since the 2020 election, Reid J. Epstein and Patricia Mazzei report.

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

  • South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham announced he would vote against confirming Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, reports Annie Karni.

  • Some North Carolina voters feel that Rep. Madison Cawthorn has finally gone too far, reports Trip Gabriel of Cawthorn’s district.

frame

There is much doom and gloom across America, something that Republican campaigns have used to try to persuade voters to change the status quo and oust Democrats from Congress.

It leaves Democrats with a difficult choice: empathize with voters’ plights or come up with an entirely different narrative?

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat up for re-election this year, appears to be taking the second approach. In his first ad of the cycle, he paints a sunny picture while smilingly strolling through suburban neighborhoods and talking to voters. He boasts of turning the state’s deficit into a surplus while cutting taxes and investing in schools.

“A balanced budget, lower taxes – our state is strong and getting stronger,” Lamont explains to the camera.

It’s a sharp 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 that Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly began running in late February, which confirmed that “families work hard just to make ends meet.”

Governors may have a little more room to highlight state and local achievements than members of Congress. But if they try to prove that conditions have improved since the coronavirus pandemic began, Democrats may risk appearing out of touch with their constituents’ daily struggles.

Thank you for reading. we will see you tomorrow

– Blake & Leah

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you’d like to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/31/us/politics/republican-midterm-strategy.html Can Republicans win by simply saying no?

Ethan Gach

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