Republicans, What Are You Even Doing Right Now?

Republicans should be having a good year in 2024. Joe Biden has some of the worst favorability numbers we’ve ever seen. Inflation has cooled a bit but is still way higher than it should be and key goods are still running very hot. The American public doesn’t feel confident in the current direction of the country and they damn sure don’t feel good about the current administration or the economy.

Crime is still a major issue in many American cities. We’ve watched Democratic leadership in major urban areas completely hand their cities over to criminals and the homeless. The fentanyl crisis is still looming over American families. We have a mental health crisis that has swept the nation since COVID (at the very least).

And yet I refuse to underestimate the ability of the Republican Party to screw this up. Especially since, currently, Republicans are arguing over social studies standards in Florida.

I get it. Kamala Harris attacked Florida over one line in a string of standards about slavery. The concept behind that line, which perhaps could have been phrased better, is not new to the world of academics. Somewhat hilariously, the same idea exists in the AP African American Studies curriculum that Florida famously banned this year.

So, of course, there is a need to defend it from Harris. The fact that we’re now slamming Byron Donalds (a Trump endorser) and Tim Scott (a Trump opponent) for taking issue with the phrasing has turned this into a clusterf-… well, you get the idea.

There is a very easy way to talk about this.

  1. If you are Ron DeSantis, you stick to the talking point that these standards were written by a largely not-white set of academic professionals and not by your office. You also refer all questions about the standards to the committee that wrote them.
  2. If you are Tim Scott, you regret the phrasing of that one set of standards and hope that it doesn’t ultimately lead to misguided instruction, but that your focus is on the country and, as President, it would not be your place to force any changes because education is better left in the hands of local and state officials.

And then, everyone moves on.

But, instead, you have one candidate who is supposed to be resetting and yet isn’t. You have another candidate who was heading in the right direction largely because he was staying out of these fights. The frontrunner, meanwhile, is now facing even more indictments and the latest legal drama isn’t providing the bump in polling it used to. The other candidates are pretty much nowhere to be seen.

I think the Wall Street Journal editorial board probably said it best this morning regarding the DeSantis campaign when it wrote “Mr. DeSantis turned a narrow first gubernatorial win into a blowout re-election in a competitive state. A record that compelling would be a terrible thing to waste on a campaign based on right-wing grievances.” The Great American Comeback is a message that desperately needs to get out there, and all sides need to focus on fixing the real concerns of Americans across the board, not just the very online far-right base.

But it isn’t just DeSantis who needs to go there. Virtually every question the media wants to ask every candidate concerns Trump, the 2020 election, or social justice in some way. You don’t actually have to answer those questions. You can redirect back to the talking points that matter. It is a choice not to, and the candidates and campaigns making that choice are making a mistake.

In the long run, there won’t be many people who remember this little tiff in the Republican primary. But this isn’t about what they remember from these arguments. What they’ll remember is a block of time where candidates weren’t talking about something that really mattered to them. The problem isn’t the fight, but the fact that it’s a distraction.

Do better.

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