The GOP’s 2024 Campaign Message Is Falling Apart

Ever since Joe Biden took the White House, Republicans have seemed to know exactly how they were going to toss him out.

The plan was simple: Hammer Biden on two of his greatest weaknesses—the economy, and immigration.

By the time the 2024 general election rolls around, the GOP will have spent years showing voters how inflation was out of control, how the economy was better under Donald Trump, and how America was safer with Trump and the GOP’s more restrictive border policies. That was how Republicans would take back the White House, seize the Senate, and pad their light majority in the House.

Less than nine months out from Election Day, however, Republicans are now confronting the reality that none of those messages may work—because none of them may be true.

While inflation continues to be a voter concern, it’s been far less of an issue in the United States than in other developed countries. Biden and the Federal Reserve’s policies seem to have constrained inflation, not exacerbated it. The recession that economists predicted for years never materialized, with Biden overseeing an economy with sizable GDP growth, a stock market that recently reached all-time highs, and an unemployment rate consistently below 4 percent. And economists are now arguing that Biden’s looser border policies may have actually been one of the reasons the United States managed its way out of an inflation spiral and has seen consistent economic growth.

No one expects that argument—that an influx of immigrants was actually good for America—to be a centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s campaign argument in 2024. If Democrats did go that route, even if it’s true, Republicans would welcome the messaging with open arms. Instead, Democrats have made a very different political calculation. They’ve spent the last few months arguing for a crackdown at the border, trying to nullify one of the GOP’s main talking points.

It’s true that, as in every election in recent history, Republicans have been arguing for tighter border policies. But unlike previous elections, Democrats have a convincing argument that it’s Republicans who have stood in the way of a safer border. They can show voters how Republicans prevented progress for a despised reason: politics.

And Democrats know they have the upper hand.

“We’ve got a lot of good material to work with on the economy, certainly,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told The Daily Beast. “But having put some solutions forward on immigration, just to get the back of the hand from Republicans—I think we exposed it’s just bad political theater.”

“That’s all they’re good for,” Huffman said. “So yeah, I feel pretty good about taking that to the voters this fall.”

After demanding action on border security last fall, Republican lawmakers forced Senate Democrats to attach immigration restrictions to foreign aid. The ensuing months-long, bipartisan negotiations produced a deal with significant immigration concessions from Democrats and a stamp of approval from Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and lead GOP negotiator, conservative Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

But passing the immigration and foreign aid legislation would deliver a major legislative victory for the Biden administration. And so naturally, Trump came out against it. The GOP predictably fell in line.

The House GOP’s refusal to come to the negotiating table on immigration restrictions gave Democrats an opening to hit them back on the border.

“Democrats have made clear that we are ready, willing, and able to fix our broken immigration system and address the challenges at the border in a bipartisan way,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)—reliably on message—told The Daily Beast Wednesday.

Jeffries then outlined the case Democrats are hungry to make to voters in 2024—essentially that House Republicans are playing political patty-cake with the border to protect Trump.

“The problem that America confronts is that House Republicans had been ordered by Donald Trump not to do anything to address the challenges at the border,” Jeffries said. “That’s shameful.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Democrats plan to blast that message—that Republicans are too busy doing Trump’s bidding to actually solve a problem—to anyone who will listen in 2024.

“The epic way they killed the bipartisan border bill, because Trump told them to, is a pretty stark example of how unserious they are,” a Democratic strategist working on House races told The Daily Beast.

“It’s a clear, straightforward message to voters: House Republicans don’t want to govern, just use the issue as a campaign scare tactic,” the strategist continued.

That rallying cry will appear in TV ads, social media statements and Democratic talking points as the 2024 election nears. A spokesman for the House Democrats’ super PAC told Politico that Democrats will use GOP opposition to the bipartisan border deal “extensively in our ads against them this fall.”

The White House has also bashed Republicans as unserious immigration flip-floppers on social media. The centrist New Democrat Coalition emphasized at the House Democrats’ annual retreat last week that immigration policy will be a persistent part of their 2024 pitch.

“What happened this week in the United States Senate, with regard to the border agreement deal, was disappointing and disgraceful. It’s the very worst of politics,” Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) said at the retreat.

“It’s why the American people are so cynical about what happens in Washington. But the New Dems stood ready to support the plan that came out of the Senate,” he continued.

Despite the Democratic border blitz, Republicans—from Freedom Caucus firebrands to frontliners—don’t seem to care about the Democratic attacks. Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO) brushed them off as plainly, “ridiculous.”

Conservative Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) had a similar message. “I don’t think we need to change the narrative,” he told The Daily Beast.

Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ)—a top target of Democratic campaign brass—wrote off the attacks as “complete nonsense.”

“We’re the ones that have been fighting this from the beginning, and we’re gonna continue to do that and message around this,” he told The Daily Beast.

I don’t think we need to change the narrative.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ)

But the refusal to reckon with the facts may be at the peril of Republicans. This week’s special election to replace former Rep. George Santos (R-NY) provided a convenient test case for Democrats on their immigration message—and it appeared to be resonating.

The race was an expensive brawl between former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D) and relative political newcomer, Republican Mazi Pilip. Suozzi ran ads calling for immigration restrictions, highlighting his record of voting to fund Immigration and Customs Enforcement and hit Pilip for opposing the Senate’s border and foreign aid agreement.

“Her opposition will result in the border staying open and more migrants coming to New York,” Suozzi said during a debate.

While immigration wasn’t the only critical subject in the Suozzi-Pilip race, even Republicans are admitting it was the most significant. A Wednesday National Republican Congressional Committee memo called immigration “The Issue” during the campaign.

As Republicans try to clean-up Pilip’s 8 percentage point loss to Suozzi, they’re claiming that their own anti-Suozzi “gale force immigration barrage” helped move the needle in their direction.

Democrats have a different takeaway. Senate border negotiator Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) urged his colleagues in a Wednesday memo to go on the immigration offensive.

“Quite simply, we risk losing the 2024 election if we do not seize this opportunity to go on offense on the issue of the border and turn the tables on Republicans on a key fall voting issue,” Murphy said.

A December AP-NORC poll found that immigration is a growing issue for voters. Going into 2024, 35 percent of U.S. adults wanted the government to address immigration, compared to 27 percent who named immigration an important issue in 2023.

But if Republicans can’t count on border security as a winning issue in 2024, they don’t have much else to lean on.

Far and away, the top issue for Americans in 2024 is still the economy. A whopping 76 percent of adults polled cited the economy as an important issue. But the economy is in decent shape. The January jobs report showed ​​the economy added 353,000 jobs—far more than anticipated. And although some prices remain high, inflation is cooling off.

(Notably, gas prices have been close to a national average of $3 for months—until, at least, a $0.12 surge due to an Indiana oil refinery going offline from a power outage.)

The one issue resonating with voters opposed to Biden in the presidential election is his age. But one, Trump may not be the most effective deliverer of that message, and two, down-ballot Republicans will struggle to make the case in their races that voters should vote for them because Biden is too old.

As the economy has improved from the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden has made his economic policies a centerpiece of his campaign. He’s shelled out for economy-focused ads and regularly highlights economic progress during speaking engagements.

His gamble that “Bidenomics” would connote positive feelings with independents instead of being a GOP laugh line is increasingly seeming like a smart bet. Now, Democratic lawmakers want in on the action and are also taking credit for the economy by boasting the long list of policies that they passed last term.

Back then—when Democrats ran the House, Senate and White House—they signed a score of economic policies into law. Democrats are crediting three of those policies in particular—the Inflation Reduction Act, Chips and Science Act, and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—for promoting economic growth.

But it takes time for legislation to produce tangible impacts on the economy, and Democrats know they’ll have to connect the dots for voters—and show them how the GOP’s House majority has produced nothing.

Democrats showing their work seems to be paying off. A January Suffolk University/USA TODAY found that 8 percent more Americans think the economy is in recovery than they did in October. Another January poll from Pew Research Center reported that 9 percent more Americans think the economy is good or excellent than they did last April.

“It’s important to be clear about real results and who’s delivered for working people,” the Democratic strategist said. “As the least productive Congress in a generation, House Republicans have nothing to show for their time in the majority.”

That’s not just a Democratic talking point. House Republicans openly complain they have achieved nothing with their House majority and have zero to run on this election cycle.

So without much else to champion, Republicans remain focused on the economy. Their message highlights a disconnect between the Biden administration’s much-celebrated positive economic indicators and their constituents’ persistent frustration with grocery store prices.

Republicans are hoping that voters will care more about their feelings than the facts.

“If I were a Democrat, I’d be looking at anything, even if it’s slightly shiny, to try and bring it up,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA).

“They need to come home with me. I’ll take them shopping and show them how people feel about the economy,” Kelly said.

Vulnerable Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) said his constituents tell him “a box of cereal has half as much in it and twice as much of the cost.”

“All of the economic indicators aside—and I acknowledge the economic indicators—the average American family and the average upstate New Yorker is facing the burden of high cost, high taxation and lack of opportunity,” Molinaro told The Daily Beast.

Polling does back up the GOP’s claim that voters are frustrated about high costs. According to a February survey from Data for Progress, 88 percent of voters are at least “somewhat concerned” about inflation, with 58 percent “very concerned.” (The data also shows a clear partisan slant on inflation, with 68 percent of Republicans saying they’re “very concerned,” and only 47 percent of Democrats reporting that same level of alarm.)

Regardless of how your party affiliation affects your view of the economy, Democrats understand they have to address the concerns, but noted that there are still about nine months until Election Day. And Democrats, unlike the GOP, say they have a clear record of economic policies to run on.

“I will fight in my election to remind people who voted yes and who voted no,” Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) told The Daily Beast.

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