One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Republican Party in the post-Trump era is its broad retreat from meaningful policymaking. As Katelyn Burns documented for TNR last year, any vestiges of conservative wonkery have all but vanished from the Beltway. Into the cavernous void created by Republican disinterest in governance, the party has contentedly thrown red meat from the culture war, transphobia, and conspiracy theories.
The lack of a party agenda has grown pronounced enough that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to advance one ahead of the 2022 midterms. But nature abhors a vacuum, as they say, and so this week Florida Senator and serpentine Pez dispenser Rick Scott has stumbled into that space with his new, This Is Spinal Tap–inspired, “Eleven Point Plan to Rescue America.” That’s right: New GOP agenda just dropped!
As you might expect, Scott’s manifesto was immediately cast as a problem for McConnell. Slate’s Jim Newell suggested that the Kentucky senator was likely to be “irked” by Scott’s litany of ideas, noting that it would merely provide fodder for “attacks from Democrats.” New York magazine’s Ed Kilgore was even more pointed: “Scott’s ‘11 Point Plan to Rescue America’ shows exactly why McConnell doesn’t like such exercises in hypotheticals. It is, to use a technical term, batshit crazy.” The prevailing verdict was that Scott had stepped on a rake, unleashed a new wave of lunatic ideas, said the quiet part out loud, etc.
But did he? Once you get past the surprise of Scott’s reveal, the pumped-up bravado of his rhetoric, and his updated lexicon of culture-war jargon—such as swapping out “woke” for “politically correct”—what you’re left with is really just some bog-standard Republican ideas: vintage notions at that. What’s this? Scott wants to treat “socialism” as an “enemy combatant”? Hardly the first time a politician went to war with a concept! He wants to migrate federal power to state governments? As TNR contributing editor Alex Pareene recently wrote, consolidating power in the states has long been part of the conservative playbook.
Why, even the very notion of out-of-power Republicans pimping manifestos is a nostalgic bit of wish-casting, reaching back to the 1990s “Contract With America” epoch. Wide swaths of Scott’s plan—including bolstering police funding, waging war on career politicians, demanding that parents receive a greater say in school curriculum—find their antecedent in Newt Gingrich’s original.
Perhaps the one thing Scott didn’t borrow from his predecessors was their concision. Given the length of Scott’s manifesto, it’s inevitable that he might wander into some crazy policy briar patches. But even here, his sins aren’t that original. Scott’s plan to sunset all laws passed by Congress after five years has a zany look about it, but the chief targets of such a proposal—New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare—are old-school Republican bugbears. His plan to prohibit raising the debt ceiling unless there was a declared war underway grabbed my attention, if only because I couldn’t figure out if Scott wanted more global financial calamities or more wars. But even this bizarre scheme is hardly novel: Republicans are now more than a decade deep in countenancing the idea that a debt limit default might be a good thing.
Scott can’t even take credit for what reporters have identified as his most radical idea: his proposal to raise taxes on hundreds of millions of Americans who lack, as Scott puts it, “skin in the game”—i.e., those who aren’t eligible to pay income taxes. As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out, Scott seems bent on “rekindling the same issue that led Mitt Romney to stumble into his “‘47 percent’ gaffe,” which today feels like ancient history.
But Scott appears to really mean it. Per Blake: “The language of the plan itself effectively acknowledges it’s advocating for an income tax increase on ‘over half of Americans’—a group of people that is overwhelmingly lower-income. And in fact, the number of Americans to whom this would apply has climbed during the pandemic.” Blake goes on to note that Scott’s tax plan seems out of step with President Donald Trump’s own position on the matter, that “not having to pay income taxes was something to be celebrated.”
This is a trivial distinction. In fact, the real value in Scott’s proposal is that it exposes that when it comes to policy, the GOP hasn’t embraced some new “Trumpian” portfolio. For all of Trump’s rhetorical and attitudinal contributions to the party, the extent to which he diverged from Republican orthodoxy in office has always been overrated and overstated. His campaign promises to bring middle-class populism to Washington were left wrecked and abandoned within his first 100 days in office. Hell, beyond allowing shadow president Leonard Leo to install three Supreme Court justices, Trump’s main accomplishment in office was a tax cut for the wealthy.
Trump innovated nothing, and while Scott’s plan is dressed up like something new under the sun, at its core it is just the same old reversion to the same old Republican mean. Scott has no real new ideas, and some of the ones on which he’s placed a big bet aren’t as popular with the public as the media often makes them out to be. There’s only one aspect of the GOP that currently isn’t decades-old or politics as usual, and it’s the part that might render the badness and the unpopularity of its agenda moot: its overarching cynicism and contempt for democracy itself. And that’s substantially more concerning than Rick Scott’s microwaved policy brainstorm.
This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.