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Why Dems Can (and Should) Run Against the Rick Scott Agenda
The fact-checkers are wrong and Democrats are right to campaign against the Scott Plan
Up until a few months ago, the Republican strategy for 2022 was clear — say little, stand for nothing, and get out of the way. This strategy hoped the public would view them as a generic alternative. Of course, they were counting on Trump, Fox News, and the MAGA media to fire up the base, but the bulk of the public wanted leaders different from the people in charge currently. Is this approach incredibly cynical? Yep. Is it deeply dishonest? Sure is. Is it effective? Almost certainly.
Mitch McConnell, an incredibly cynical, deeply dishonest man, was the architect of this strategy. And it was proceeding apace until Florida Senator Rick Scott decided to commit the cardinal sin of telling the voters about the Republicans’ secret agenda.
Scott released an “11-point plan to rescue America” for the Republican Party. This plan was filled with unpopular items that Democrats love to run against. Among other items, Scott asserts that the new Republican majority will:
Raise taxes on half of Americans including senior citizens;
Sunset all federal legislation including Social Security and Medicare in five years;
Build a wall on the Southern border named after Donald Trump.
The Biden White House is using the Scott plan as part of their midterm message with multiple tweets and graphics comparing Biden’s (good and very popular) tax plan with Scott’s (bad and very unpopular) plan.
Sensing an opportunity to demonstrate their “both sides” bona fides, some in the traditional political media began criticizing Biden for being unfair to the party that refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of his election and is cruelly and cynically targeting LGBTQ kids. Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact-checker, gave Biden “three Pinocchios” and wrote:
Scott’s tax plan is certainly ripe for political fodder, but the White House is pushing its luck here. Scott is a Republican, and he is in Congress and part of the GOP leadership. But his snippet of an idea, such as it is, cannot be labeled a “congressional Republican” plan. No legislation has been crafted, and no other Republican lawmakers have announced their support. One cannot instantly assume every person in a political party supports a proposal by a prominent member.
With all due respect to Kessler, this is overly-literal idiocy and does more to undermine truth in political discourse than reinforce it. Here’s why the fact-checkers are wrong and Democrats should aggressively make the case against Scott’s plan.
Why The Fact Checkers are Wrong
Rick Scott is not just some random Republican Senator. He is the person chosen by Mitch McConnell to head up the Senate Republican’s campaign arm. This role makes him a de facto part of Senate leadership and a major fundraiser. Most importantly, Scott is very close to Donald Trump. So close, according to Politico Playbook, that:
In a private meeting at Mar-a-Lago a few days ago, DONALD TRUMP made a personal pitch to Senate Republican campaign chief RICK SCOTT. “You should run for Senate majority leader,” he told the NRSC chair, according to someone familiar with the exchange.
It wasn’t the first time, either: Trump has repeatedly told Scott he’d be great at the job and should challenge MITCH MCCONNELL, multiple people familiar with the interactions told Playbook.
Scott didn’t agree to challenge McConnell and would probably lose if he did. But Trump hates McConnell and John Thune, the second in command, with the passion of a thousand suns. Being close to Trump is a position of real influence in the party. No one knows how the next few years will play out, but McConnell is on borrowed time. If Trump runs for President (which he announced he would do last week), McConnell will be taking orders from Scott whether he likes it or not.
As a sign of McConnell’s incredible weakness, Scott doubled and tripled down on his ideas after being publicly chastised by his boss. Scott penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and put out this video promoting his ideas:
Democrats do not have to be too concerned about this. Republicans treat Defund the Police — a position pushed by activists and opposed by nearly every elected Democrat in the country — as if it was a core part of the party’s platform.
The Power of this Political Gift
We don’t need a poll to tell us that taxing the poor and retired is unpopular, but Morning Consult gave us one anyway. Scott’s proposal to tax everyone who does not currently pay income tax — a group made up of retirees and the working poor — is supported by only a third of voters. Majorities of independents, people making under $50,000, and retirees all oppose the idea. For what it’s worth, a majority of voters also oppose the cockamamie wall idea.
The Morning Consult poll does show support for some of Scott’s ideas, but several of those ideas are actually part of the Biden agenda including prioritizing domestic manufacturing and increasing funding for the police. By a margin of 48 to 30 percent, voters support Scott’s plan to cut federal spending by reducing the federal workforce by 25 percent and selling government buildings. However, getting people to support theoretical reductions in government is easy. The politics become treacherous when the impacts of those cuts are delineated — delays in Social Security payments, longer wait times at veterans’ hospitals, an inability to respond to national disasters (or the current pandemic). I am very confident that some smart progressive policy people can spit out a report with the specific consequences of this seemingly popular idea. And then some very smart Democratic ad can hammer every Republican for these cuts in popular services and programs.
More broadly, this Republican agenda gives Democrats the opportunity to tie the GOP to the Trumpist philosophy that motivated the Democratic base and brought swing voters to our side. As Ed Kilgore wrote in New York Magazine:
Whoever drafted this monstrosity must have been told to ask “What Would Trump Do?” on every topic and then ratchet up the Right-Wing anger and MAGA rhetoric considerably. Instead of just attacking affirmative action, the plan would ban collection of Census information by race or ethnic group. Criticizing excessive “wokeness” isn’t enough; Scott’s agenda promises to ban the use of “tax dollars for any diversity training.” And Trump gets his props in the plan, too: It proposes to “finish building the wall and name it after President Donald Trump.”
How to Push Our Ideas
The Right is very good at cherry-picking any politically advantageous statement or issue and then aggressively messaging it to the public at scale. They have done this to great effect with Hillary Clinton’s email habits, Defund the Police, and the idea that Democrats are socialists. They have the advantage of a much louder megaphone powered by Fox and Facebook. Though the Democratic messaging operation is not as powerful, it doesn’t mean we are powerless. We can drive narratives and make attacks stick, but it takes more work and it requires all of us to leverage the power of our own networks by texting and sharing the right content.
To make this work, every Democrat at every level must push the idea that Republicans want to raise taxes on half of all Americans to pay for a wall named after Donald Trump. The message has to be in ads, hammered on social media, and delivered on the stump. We must brush off the annoying reporters tsk-tsking us to push an agenda that Mitch McConnell won’t publicly support. The political press holds Democrats to different sets of rules, but that doesn’t mean we have to play by them.
This is a plan consistent with decades of Republican values being pushed by the former President’s handpicked choice to lead the Senate. Democrats should proceed with confidence and without fear of some overly literal nattering nabobs.