Wednesday, April 28, 2021


How many times can you call your competitors socialists, idiots, sleepy, etc., before ordinary voters discover you have nothing material to say and stop listening?

It’s hard to guess, but it’s a risk that some “thought” leaders on the right seem to be courting. Their steady resistance to engaging in substance and their durable preference to trigger, own or dunk on liberals make it difficult if not impossible for them to develop and explain coherent policies.

That’s a problem.

The purpose of the governing is not to own, trigger or dunk on liberals. It is to enact policies that work to make America better.

One consequence of the emphasis on adolescent, emotional gratification is that the 2020 presidential campaign devolved into an extended therapy session in which the Republican candidate successfully made it about himself by complaining that he wasn’t getting the love he deserved, rather than what it should have been about — a moment to draw distinctions between the president and his rival.

The inability or unwillingness of some to engage on substance resulted first in President Biden’s election and now his string of policy victories. Our new president’s policies are terrible, but few are willing to make that case directly, because it is boring and takes time and might require reading or even having command of a fact or two.  

Let’s take a recent example. Mr. Biden’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 is truly a bad idea. It will damage the economy, and its burdens will fall disproportionately on the poor, the elderly, and those people and institutions (think hospitals and schools) on fixed incomes.

Instead of focusing on those aspects of it, some on right decided that Mr. Biden intended to outlaw meat. Those who wanted to generate outrage rather than opposition took data from a University of Michigan study that indicated that if you wanted to reduce emissions, limiting the consumption of meat is one way to do so. That has the virtue of being true.

But Mr. Biden was intentionally vague about how his commitment would be met, specifically to limit attacks on the damaging nature of the commitment.

He never mentioned meat. He never mentioned banning a single thing.

Those who jumped on banning meat as a possible issue have made it more difficult to legitimately attack Mr. Biden’s ill-advised commitment. My guess is that they don’t care. They got the attention they wanted on Twitter and have moved on to the next dumpster fire.

The problem is that the president’s policy will remain in place unless those who oppose it can actually marshal and articulate meaningful, true and accurate arguments against it.

It’s a pervasive problem on the right.

In the last 12 months, the Republican Party has taken a hard pass on writing a platform or assessing what went wrong in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. That suggests a team that is having trouble finding and explaining policies around which to coalesce.

Part of the problem with having no policy preferences is that it is difficult to oppose or differentiate oneself from the policy preferences of others. Team Biden is winning in part because the national Republicans have no alternatives, or at least none they care to share.

We saw this last week when House Republicans offered essentially a watered-down version of the Democrats’ climate change proposal. Unfortunately, voters always prefer the original to the derivative, the genuine to the copy.

To be successful, a political party needs to provide a choice, not an echo. When there are crisp and knowable differences between the parties, the Republicans usually do better. When those differences are fuzzy or poorly explained, the Democrats usually do better.

When vacuity takes over, the entire nation suffers.

Mr. Biden was clear about his policies during the campaign. But Republicans were busy talking about how mask-wearing is symptomatic of whatever instead of focusing on Mr. Biden’s actual intentions. You can’t blame the public for voting for the more pleasant candidate if that is the only meaningful difference offered to them by the candidates.

The problem with being careless with facts, with being disinterested in policy, with caring more about dunking on someone than winning an issue is that it usually means your side loses.

It’s a fundamental flaw. Until they fix it, the Republicans — even if they regain the majority in one or both houses of Congresses — will continue to lose in policy arenas. The Republicans and thought leaders on the right need to get smart and get focused. Or they need to get accustomed to losing.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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