For Republicans to win back the majority in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said GOP candidates, whether they are incumbents or challengers, must spend time with voters in their communities and come up with solutions about their concerns.
The House minority leader said spending time focusing on the latest outrage on social media or the daily spectacles coming out of Washington, D.C., won’t get them anywhere.
“The most important thing is to listen to people, because when you listen, you’ll hear the concerns, and you’ll be prepared to be able to find ways to solve them,” said McCarthy in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
The Californian stressed that the path forward for Republicans does not go through the Beltway. “The Republicans’ road to the majority bypasses Washington, D.C., and that means bypassing Washington, D.C., press as well,” he said. “Our focus is on the hardworking American taxpayer; that is where our focus is going to be. You’ve got millions of kids who are out of school, and they’ve been out of school for more than a year. You’ve got people out of work. Why aren’t we focused on the two fundamental items that put us back on track?”
The House leader has been in the national spotlight for the past two weeks, beginning with the conference vote that ousted former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from leadership and his decision not to support legislation for a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
McCarthy said his problem with the commission was how broad it was. “And it’s the point I’ve made the whole time, the scope,” he said. “Nancy Pelosi’s been trying to play games with this.” Why, he asked, does it not cover other safety breaches that have affected either members of congress or the Capitol complex itself, such as the 2017 shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice or the fatal attack on Capitol Police on April 2?
“If we’re going to have a commission that looks at, for the security of the House, why wouldn’t we include those?” he asked. “Why would we try to exclude that?”
Last week, the Democratic-led House voted to create an independent commission on the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. The bill passed 252-175, with 35 Republicans voting in support of the commission.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed McCarthy’s position one day later, with Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, both of whom voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, unhappy with the bill in its present form.
The commission bill will need 10 Senate Republican votes to begin debate and allow amendments.
McCarthy is where many minority leaders of their party have found themselves ahead of the last three wave election cycles: Trying to bring together a fractured but energized party itching to be in the majority but not quite there in terms of developing their message.
In the 1994 wave election cycle, then-House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich rolled out “The Contract with America” just six weeks before that cycle’s midterm elections. The document offered up detailed legislative actions with a promise to uphold them. The strategy worked, and for the first time in 40 years, Republicans won a majority in the House. They kept it until 2006 when voters became fatigued with two wars in the Middle East, the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, several scandals and a Republican Party that had lost its way on spending.
In the 2006 cycle, Democrats succeeded by finding centrist candidates to run in swing districts and combined that with values-messaging that was not overtly partisan. The gamble worked, and despite the fracture between the left wing of the party and its new centrist officeholders, Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House, and Pelosi became the first female speaker.
Four years later, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner held together yet another fractured party ahead of the 2010 midterm elections. It was filled with traditional conservatives and establishment types. The base of the party had found themselves attracted to the new candidates running, who were often small businessmen and women who had never been in politics before, rising up as part of the tea party movement.
Boehner’s “Where are the jobs?” quip, which he had repeated for over a year during the slow recovery, became the central theme of the campaign in the closing days of the 2010 midterm elections. Against a still-popular president working hard to hold his party’s majority, the Republicans not only gained back what they lost in 2006 but built on it, winning a net total of 63 seats.
McCarthy says his priority and message right now for voters is bringing the country “back to normal.” Like Gingrich, Pelosi, and Boehner, he too faces a fractured party, with a conservative populist wing making up the majority and the rest holding lingering resentment toward former president Donald Trump.
Republicans surprised everyone last fall, including themselves, when their party picked up 14 seats in the 2020 presidential elections in a year they were predicted to lose 15 — the Senate majority won by Democrats was the smallest for any party since 2000, when Republicans won 221 seats.
So how does McCarthy expect to capitalize on last year’s gains when much of the cultural curators such as the larger media, Hollywood, big corporations, and the major sports leagues are all pushing against anything conservatives stand for? He says that is easy, go directly to the people, and don’t just remind them who has their back, show them.
“It’s just not part of a message. It’s what we do,” he said.
Democrats listen to Hollywood and what they say about regular Americans at award shows, he said. “We go listen to the people at truck stops and diners and all across America, where people who are going to work every single day or wanting to try to work every day, take their kids back to school.”
McCarthy said Democrats are more concerned about what Hollywood thinks of them than about the concerns of everyday Americans, “You try to bring up going to school, they fight us on it,” he said. “You bring up, ‘Let’s send the money to the classrooms to open it up,’ they want to delay it two years. You talk about the ability to follow science and put people in Congress back to work, they want to keep proxies so people don’t come to work and still get paid. They don’t want bills to go through committee, so you don’t have an opportunity to have an amendment, to have a voice for the constituents you represent.”
McCarthy gets plenty of questions about Cheney and Trump, but he says he is rarely asked by the national press about what he has found to be the biggest concerns among voters as he has been traveling across the country, “I’ll tell you, one is about the economy and getting people back to work. I don’t think we get asked enough about that.”
The other, he said, is what are the even deeper problems at the border besides the evident ones coming from the surge of illegal immigrants flooding border towns, “Who’s actually coming across our border?” he asks. “Are there terrorists coming across our border? Are we being told about it?”
In April, Customs and Border Protection announced that U.S. border agents had arrested two Yemeni men on a terror watch-list in separate incidents as they crossed the border with Mexico illegally.
McCarthy said he is frustrated by the White House’s seeming ambivalence about this. “I’m worried that there’s not a greater concern or action to stop what is going on right now,” he said. “I think people are going to look back in hindsight, and they’re going to say I warned them about it.”
Between the border crisis, the culture wars, the lingering effects of pandemic shutdowns, inflation and the gasoline crisis, McCarthy said he wants to arm Republicans for an election-year debate that will allow them to earn their majority back.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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