Yesterday Rick Scott released “An 11 Point Plan to Rescue America,” his version of a governing agenda for the next Republican congressional majority. Scroll through it and you’ll find some old favorites (end abortion, secure the border, get tough on crime) and some new ones (“stop left-wing efforts to rig elections”). There were two newsy aspects to his plan, one of which was the fact that it exists in the first place. After all, Mitch McConnell has decided that the Senate GOP won’t release any agenda of its own before the midterms, declining to say what Republicans will do if handed power by the electorate this fall. And there’s a strategic reason for that: McConnell wants the midterms to be a pure referendum on Biden’s first two years, not a choice between his vision for the country and the right’s. When you’ve got an incumbent in office who’s polling at 40 percent, you don’t interrupt him to float your own policy proposals. You point to him and say, “Do you really want this guy to have total control of government until 2025?”
By issuing his plan, Scott chose to interrupt Biden. And it may come back to hurt Republicans, as we’ll see in a moment.
But first, consider Fabrizio’s tweet. He’s no Twitter rando. He’s a well-known Republican pollster, enough so that he served as head of the Trump campaign’s operations in that regard. Does Fabrizio know something about Scott’s motives that the rest of us don’t? Bear in mind that Trump hates McConnell and is obviously keen to see him ousted as Republican leader, replaced by someone who’s better disposed to him. According to the Daily Beast, in fact, he’s been making inquiries among Senate Republicans to see if anyone will challenge “the Old Crow” for him:
However, in private conversations with close associates over the past several months, at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere, Trump has batted around a handful of GOP senators’ names in his quest to stick it to the riot-averse “dumb son of a bitch” McConnell. Since at least late last year, Trump has been asking a recurring question.
“Do you think Lindsey could do it?” he has asked advisers, according to two sources who’ve heard him pose this same question at different points over the past four months…
“If I’m being honest, it’s not going well,” one of the sources, who has tried to help the ex-president on his vengeful quest, conceded, noting that there is scant appetite among Senate Republicans, and among many top-tier conservative candidates, to go along with this. Various Trump allies and lawmakers have already told the former president that it would be a bad idea to try to oust McConnell, which would risk sparking further intra-party tumult at this point in the Biden era.
Graham laughed off the idea of challenging McConnell when asked about it by the Beast, claiming that Trump has never tried to put him up to it. But it seems like more than a coincidence that Graham has been McConnell’s loudest critic among the Senate GOP in recent months, explicitly questioning whether McConnell’s anti-Trump posture leaves him fit to serve as caucus leader. Trump is running all sorts of vendettas against his Republican enemies this year in the form of backing primary challenges to those who’ve crossed him. Certainly he’d relish seeing one of his most powerful critics, McConnell, punished as well by being deposed.
Hence the significance of Fabrizio’s tweet. Did Trump finally find a Senate Republican willing to challenge the Old Crow? Scott happens to represent his home state of Florida, where Trump’s influence over Republican voters is likely to be outsized even relative to other GOP states. Maybe the 11-point plan, which is heavy on MAGA tropes — Scott wants to finish the border wall *and* name it after Trump — is a way to position him as the “America First” choice to lead the caucus in a leadership challenge to McConnell next year.
Or maybe not. There are more prosaic reasons why Scott might have wanted to brand himself with a MAGA agenda. He’s the chairman of the NRSC, which is in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate this fall. Maybe he disagreed with McConnell about whether the GOP should issue an agenda for the midterms, calculating that he’d win over more swing voters than he’d lose by doing so. Or maybe Scott, who’s already gone from governor to senator in his brief political career, is eyeing a presidential run down the road and wants to start reshaping his image as a “Trump conservative” now.
Whatever the answer, some Republicans are unhappy with him this morning. His 11-point plan happens to contain a controversial provision, one that’s caused the party political grief before: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.” That reminded some of Mitt Romney’s remarks in 2012 about the “47 percent” of “takers” who pay no income tax and who are supposedly free-riding on the “makers” who do. Obama used the backlash to those comments to steer lower-income voters towards Democrats that fall. GOPers are unhappy at the prospect of a reprise:
Another GOP operative writes in: “This is what happens when Rick Scott’s presidential ambitions run headlong into Mitch McConnell’s goal of taking back the Senate majority.”
It was 61 percent of Americans, not 47 percent, who paid no taxes last year and many of them inhabit GOP-friendly groups — retirees, for one, as well as low-earning white voters without a college degree. “A promise to make all Americans pay federal income tax is a promise to raise taxes on well over one hundred million people,” noted Josh Barro, speculating that Scott is anticipating a pivot back to deficit-hawk politics on the right as interest rates rise. But that’s one part of his plan that’s *not* Trumpy, per Aaron Blake:
As NBC’s Benjy Sarlin wrote a year ago, Trump effectively said people not having to pay income taxes was something to be celebrated. He proposed codifying a zero percent income tax rate for those making $25,000 per year individually or $50,000 as a married couple — rather than those people merely getting to zero through deductions. He even floated sending those people tax returns that stated, “I win.” Trump proudly projected his plan would increase the number of Americans who didn’t pay income tax to 75 million.
Is Scott’s proposal going to cost Republicans seats this fall? Not on its own, no. But it gives the left a chance to change the subject from Biden and to go on the attack, precisely the reason McConnell has opted not to release an agenda of his own. And it’s not great that Scott is the head of the NRSC, giving Dems an angle to claim that he speaks for all Republican Senate candidates, not just himself.
Here he is last night on Hannity, denying that he’d raise taxes on Americans even though that’s the clear import of his plan.