The inability or unwillingness of the Republican Party over the past few years to clarify its political intentions has rightly hurt the party’s chances of taking control of the federal legislature in this election cycle. This failure has led to a series of pathologies, the most immediate of which is the creation of a vacuum that has allowed both former President Donald Trump to stick around in everyone’s head and voters to forget (hopefully temporarily) just how inept and disastrous the Biden team really was. was.
If you are currently an elected official and don’t talk about problems or achievements, you invariably answer the little things of the day; or worse, follow the former president’s tail, or worse, react to whatever nonsense the Democrats want to talk about.
The lack of politics and ideas also opens the door for the other side to define and identify their opponents. We have seen that this cycle, as a vacuum created by the reluctance of Republicans in Congress to warn voters about what they intend to do if given partial control of the government, has allowed Democrats to define Republicans and therefore now match them in voter enthusiasm.
Focusing on politics is also important for elections, in large part because it helps make individual campaigns part of the national narrative. This especially helps weaker candidates. If Mehmet Oz had any material politics to talk about, he would most likely talk about it instead of raw vegetables or get sucked into Twitter conversations about how many houses he owns.
Similarly, Herschel Walker would at least have had a chance to speak in public without hurting himself. Candidates like Arizona’s Blake Masters and Ohio’s J.D. Vance could talk at some length about issues and policies that are important to the country, rather than contesting their general theories about the world.
In short, the focus on politics helps keep candidates out of trouble.
Another thing that political ideas do is recognize that there is still work to be done. We haven’t heard much about the border wall in this campaign, despite the fact that the southern border has all but disappeared under Biden’s command. We also haven’t heard much about Obamacare subsidies for the rich, despite the fact that they were the main stimulus for catastrophic, economically devastating reconciliation. There hasn’t been much talk about stopping funding for Planned Parenthood either.
Republican candidates act as if the last time they won a majority, they didn’t leave a single agenda item unfulfilled. These are inaccuracies, everyone knows, and the inability of current candidates to acknowledge past failures does not give voters confidence that past mistakes will be corrected.
The emphasis on policy and proposals also strengthens the credibility of representative government and is good for the republic and its citizens. When voters are told what candidates will try to do if elected, they will be better able to choose between candidates. Even if the choice in question is simply framed as avoiding the pernicious policies of the incumbent, at least there is clarity. This focus helps everyone stay focused on the real goals of government—advancing the long-term interests of the nation and its citizens—and helps avoid campaigns that turn into self-aggrandizing candidates and satisfying their egos.
Campaigns are always about something—the incumbent president, the mood of the country, the plight of the economy, whatever. Talking about politics is smart because it helps focus voters on material (rather than trivial or cosmetic) differences. This keeps the conversation on topics that your side would prefer to talk about (for Republicans, it should be the economy, inflation, energy prices, and the disaster in Afghanistan). By depriving them of wiggle room, your opponents cannot switch to more favorable topics for them.
Despite all this, the Republican Party, which has less than 80 days left in this cycle, has not provided any policy documents or indications of what they can do if they win a majority in the House of Representatives or the Senate. This should come as no surprise given that the same party failed to develop a platform during the 2020 presidential election cycle.
This is a very serious problem that cannot be explained and cannot be ignored.