RALEIGH, N.C. — Republicans are fighting to seize control of Congress. Just don’t ask what they’d do if they win.
Look no further for evidence of the GOP’s muddled governing agenda than battleground North Carolina, where party leaders packed into a convention hall Saturday night to cheer former President Donald Trump. Even with a high-stakes US Senate election looming, the Republicans there were united not by any consistent set of conservative policies or principles, but by Trump’s groundless grievances about the 2020 election and his attacks against critics in both parties.
The lack of a forward-looking agenda stands in stark contrast to successful midterm elections of past years, particularly 1994 and 2010, when Republicans swept into power after staking clear positions on health care, federal spending and crime, among other issues. Without such a strategy heading into 2022, Republicans on the ballot risk allowing themselves to be wholly defined by Trump, who lost his last election when he drew 7 million fewer votes nationally than Democrat Joe Biden and who has seen his popularity slide further, even among some Republicans, since leaving office in January.
“I’m unaware of a GOP agenda. I would love to see one,” said Texas-based conservative activist and former tea party leader Mark Meckler.
“Nobody knows what they’re about,” he said of today’s Republicans. “They do this at their own peril.”
The GOP’s embrace of Trump’s self-serving priorities has almost completely consumed the party’s long-standing commitment to fiscal discipline, free markets and even the rule of law. That leaves Republican candidates from North Carolina to North Dakota unwilling or unable to tell voters how they would address the nation’s biggest challenges if given the chance.
Party leaders acknowledge it could be another year or more before Republicans develop a clear governing agenda. In the meantime, Trump, who is focused on the past far more than the future, plans to become a regular campaign fixture again. Building on Saturday’s North Carolina appearance, his advisers are eying potential rallies in states with top Senate races in 2022, including Ohio, Florida, Alabama and Georgia.
In an interview, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the Senate Republican political arm, offered a lukewarm response when asked about Trump’s role in the upcoming campaign.
“We both want to take back the majority in 2022. I tell him what I’m doing, and I’d love to get his support,” Scott said of Trump.
He balked when asked whether Trump should serve as the face of the Republican Party for the midterms, when control of the House, Senate and dozens of governorships are at stake.
“The face of the party is each individual race,” Scott said, noting that there will be hundreds of Republican candidates on midterm ballots.