Policy over personality: Early strategy takeaways from the GOP retreat



Some of that messaging will be a repeat of 2020, including tying vulnerable House Democrats to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and depicting Democrats as socialists.

Behind closed doors, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the head of the GOP campaign arm, revealed internal polling that showed Pelosi is one of the least popular politicians in the country, with her numbers dropping further in the last two months, according to a source in the room. The National Republican Congressional Committee chair cited how her numbers were particularly low in the Midwest.

Emmer also pointed to polling that showed how his Democratic counterpart, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), is vulnerable. And Republicans plan to go on the offense to oust him from his seat, the source said.

Emmer in an interview with POLITICO on Monday said he “absolutely” plans to repeat the socialist attacks against Democrats next year, citing various policies that he says emphasize their message.

“Every single day, we’re going to hold these people accountable and we’re going to remind voters all across the country, not just the districts that we’ve had targeted, that this is about stopping Nancy Pelosi and her radical socialist agenda,” Emmer said.

But Monday wasn’t just about finding the right message, it was also about determining the best way to communicate it. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former President Donald Trump’s former press secretary and a GOP candidate in the 2022 Arkansas gubernatorial race, and Ari Fleischer, former President George W. Bush’s White House press secretary, sought to instill in members that the key to a successful interview was preparation, according to multiple sources. Don’t wing it, they cautioned.

McCarthy, who has also repeatedly urged his rank-and-file members to stop attacking one another in public, made efforts to rally around Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who is at home recovering from emergency eye surgery.

Members cheered for him and he thanked his colleagues for the calls and cards he has received from them. The Texas Republican also provided an update on his eye health and teased colleagues.

But it wasn’t all a moment of unity.

McCarthy was not shying away from calling out GOP conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), whom he suggested needs to stop going after Trump as a member of House leadership.

“I think there’s a responsibility — if you’re going to be in leadership, leaders eat last,” McCarthy said in an interview. “And when leaders try to go out and not work as one team, it creates difficulties.”

McCarthy says he has also pressed Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, to heed such advice. When asked whether she has done so, McCarthy replied: “You can be the judge.”

His remarks come after Cheney sought to press the importance of not minimizing what happened on Jan. 6 and who was involved, just after the GOP leader shifted the narrative of how he depicted his phone call with Trump on the day of the assault.

Cheney reiterated in an interview that she stood by her decision to vote to impeach Trump for his role on Jan. 6, but she emphasized the importance of both parties coming together to create a bipartisan commission that will examine what really happened on that deadly day in order to avoid history repeating itself.

“If we minimize what happened on Jan. 6 and if we appease it, then we will be in a situation where every election cycle, you could potentially have another constitutional crisis,” Cheney said in an interview. “If you get into a situation where we don’t guarantee a peaceful transfer of power, we won’t have learned the lessons of Jan. 6. And you can’t bury our head in the sand. It matters hugely to the survival of the country.”

While she did not name McCarthy directly, her comments came after the California Republican claimed on Fox News Sunday that Trump was unaware the Capitol was breached by rioters until McCarthy called the then-president to tell him to call his supporters off.

“I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on,” McCarthy told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “He didn’t see it, but he ended the call … telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did. He put a video out later.”

McCarthy’s interview account with Wallace contradicted his initial remarks responding to Trump’s role in the insurrection as well as the account of Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-Wash.), who has publicly detailed an expletive-filled conversation between Trump and McCarthy on that day, in which Trump reportedly told McCarthy that the rioters at the Capitol are “more upset about the election than you are.”

On top of these subtle shots fired, Republican leaders sought to focus on policy rather than personality during this week’s series of closed-door meetings. That was no easy task for a GOP conference buffeted by controversies since the year began, from its internal divide over whether to challenge the certification of Trump’s loss to the sex trafficking probe that’s ensnared Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to the flap over Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) incendiary social media posts.

Still, GOP leaders were striking a coordinated note as they seek to counter Biden, Pelosi and Democrats at large.

“Both with respect to Biden and with respect to Pelosi, our focus is on substance and our focus is on policies, and I think that’s actually really important for us going forward,” Cheney said. “We have to get away from incentivizing … the social media stars, away from incentivizing the toxicity, and we need to really focus on encouraging people to debate ideas.”

On the policy side, McCarthy launched seven task forces designed to help shape the party’s messaging on key issue areas. Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina is set to lead a task force on jobs and the economy, with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington taking on technology and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio exploring “the future of American freedoms.” Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana was tapped to lead a task force on energy, climate and conservation, with Rep. John Katko of New York helming one on domestic security, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas focused on China, in addition to a health task force co-led by Reps. Devin Nunes of California and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky.

Members will be able to join task forces that are in their areas of interest, Cheney said Monday. House Republicans are aiming to shape that work into more concrete groups that will ultimately shape legislation as a broader strategy for the party’s midterm election agenda.

Republicans rolled into their retreat projecting confidence that they will be able to take back the House next year. They won back more seats in 2020 than they expected, thanks to a class of women and minority recruits who have slimmed down Pelosi’s majority.

The GOP is now hoping to have history and redistricting on their side this coming year, barring any unforeseen obstacles. Republicans argue that Biden and his party have handed them messaging opportunities to use heading into 2022 on issues such as immigration, taxes and policing.

Beyond Sanders and Fleischer, other high-profile speakers will address Republicans at their retreat, which started Sunday and runs through Tuesday morning. Emmer briefed members Monday, along with Dan Conston of the Congressional Leadership Fund. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel spoke during Monday’s lunch session.

Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.



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