INDIANAPOLIS—Some people are slow learners.
And some people never learn at all.
The members of the Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives belong to one of those two groups. The next two years will tell us which one.
Fresh from a midterm election that fell far, far, far short of both Republican expectations and historic norms for parties out of power, the House GOP firebreathers announced their priorities for the coming legislative session, one in which they will have one of the slimmest majorities in American history.
Most sensible politicians would use a moment such as this one to lay a foundation for future growth. They would outline an agenda featuring plans and programs designed to sway independent or undecided voters. They would use their platform to persuade.
But that’s not the way the deep thinkers in the House Republican caucus approach things.
Their agenda is simple.
They plan a series of investigations—and every one of those investigations will be designed to appeal to the narrowing base of supporters that already supports the GOP.
The Republicans say they will investigate President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, even though there already are several criminal investigations into the younger Biden’s conduct, and he likely will be indicted soon.
They also plan to investigate the U.S.-Mexico border “crisis.” Maybe that investigation will determine why Republicans made top-heavy tax cuts for billionaires their legislative priority rather than border security from 2017 to 2019, when they controlled the presidency, both chambers of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
But I wouldn’t count on it.
The Javerts in the House also intend to dive into the U.S. withdrawal from the Afghanistan War, the cause of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Of these, only the study of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle doesn’t seem exclusively partisan in nature.
It’s doubtful, though, that the House Republicans will ask the essential question about that costly episode—which is: Once the United States has plunged into a long-term military conflict without an exit strategy in mind, how should we go about extricating ourselves?
The other investigations are nothing more than attempts to throw chunks of red meat to the most rabid and snarling parts of the Republican base. The House GOP brain trust seems to think this is a winning political strategy.
They’re wrong about that—for at least two reasons.
The first is that none of these investigations connects in any way to the lives of average Americans.
The strongest message Republicans had in the 2022 election focused on the economy and the unease many—perhaps even most—Americans feel regarding galloping inflation. Voters in the suburbs—once a Republican bastion but now the battlefield in which elections for at least the next decade will be decided—worry the good lives they’ve built for themselves and their families will slip away, one price increase at a time.
Inflationary pressures on the world economy aren’t likely to go away any time soon, so the House Republicans could spend their political capital fashioning programs designed to alleviate those concerns. They could create a system of targeted tax cuts aimed at helping the middle class offset costs in other areas.
The Republicans are going to focus on wooing the voters who already will be with them regardless.
They might as well send every embattled suburban GOP candidate out to campaign wearing a sign reading:
“Please send me back to make noise and spend your tax money while accomplishing nothing.”
The second reason the GOP strategy is wrong is that it’s based on a mistaken premise.
Republicans believe the Benghazi investigation fatally wounded 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The problem with that thinking is that Clinton was damaged goods long before the investigation started.
For nearly 20 years, she had carried historically high negatives. Polls showed that four out of 10 voters wouldn’t cast a ballot for her under any circumstances, which meant she had to persuade five out of the remaining six to support her.
That’s a tall order.
Joe Biden never has aroused the levels of animosity both Clintons did and do and, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee again, Biden likely won’t do anything more than say:
“Vote for me because I’m not him.”
Republicans have been down this road before.
Pity they didn't learn anything along the way.