Stuck in Limbo

Shared Article from the Guardian

Republicans still orbiting Trump dark star fail to derail Biden’s first 100 days | Republicans

For Democrats it has been a hundred days of sweeping legislation, barrier-breaking appointments and daring to dream big. For Republicans, a hundred days in the political wilderness.

The party that just four years ago controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress now finds itself shut out of power and struggling to find its feet. As Joe Biden forges ahead with ambitions to shift the political paradigm, Republicans still have a Donald Trump problem.

The former US president remains the unofficial leader of the party and exerts a massive gravitational pull on its senators, representatives, governors and state parties. Obsessed with “culture wars” and voter fraud, the Trump distortion field has made it difficult for Republicans to move on.

“Trump is like a fire,” said Ed Rogers, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush administrations. “Too close and you get burned. Too far away, you’re out in the cold. So the party spends a lot of time talking about the fire, managing the fire, orbiting the fire. It takes a lot of energy out of the party.”

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was the last time Democrats swept the board of White House, House of Representatives and Senate. On that occasion conservatives exploited the financial crisis to stir resentment about government spending, giving rise to the Tea Party and winning back the House in the midterm elections.

It’s a lot easier to grift on people’s fears of other people and prey on their concerns about culture wars that really don’t exist

Michael Steele

But this time looks very different. Republicans were forced to watch from the sidelines as Biden oversaw the distribution of 200m coronavirus vaccination doses while bringing down unemployment. They failed to find a coherent line of attack on his $1.9tn Covid relief package, which opinion polls showed was popular with the public, including Republican voters.

Instead of setting out a clear alternative agenda, the party has spent much of the past three months wading into issues that animate the Trump base, such as the rights of transgender athletes and the withdrawal of six Dr Seuss books due to racist content. In this policy vacuum “cancel culture” and “wokeness” are the rallying cries while the loudest voices, such as Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, are also the most extreme.

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said: “When you don’t have a plan you go to what you think you’re good at and that is creating tensions and divisions that move people emotionally rather than practically. So the reality is, you’re going to talk about Dr Seuss when you have nothing to say about Covid-19. You’re going to talk about transgender issues when you have nothing to say on infrastructure.”

He added: “It’s a lot easier to grift on people’s fears of other people and prey on their concerns about culture wars that really don’t exist. But at the end of the day, when you’re watching family members get sick and die, when you’ve lost your business, when you’ve been fired from your job in the midst of a global pandemic, you don’t give a damn about Dr Seuss.”

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