Over the past week or so, we’ve seen some subtle shifts from the White House (and Democrats as a whole) on a few key issues where they were losing ground: immigration and crime.

On immigration, Vice President Kamala Harris finally decided to visit the border after months of criticism from Republicans for failing to do so when President Biden put her on point on the issue. Her visit was mainly a substance-free photo op that won’t do much of anything to stem the rising tide of illegal immigration, but it at least allowed her to check that box off her list (even if she didn’t visit the actual border). That’s probably the most she’s going to be doing in that area any time soon, anyway: The administration has made no real legislative push on the issue, and neither side seems very interested in finding common ground. Republicans are too terrified of their own base to even feign interest in discussing immigration, and Democrats seem certain enough of their continued majority that they have little interest in negotiation, either.

Rather than spending months criticizing Harris over her failure to do a photo op, Republicans could have presented their own comprehensive approach to immigration. This didn’t have to be the result of a series of endless negotiations with Democrats, either, or begin only at the behest of the White House, as happened with the infrastructure negotiations. They could have simply opened with their own plan, one that included a mix of stepped-up border enforcement and funds to address the root problems causing the issue. Instead, they spent weeks harping on Harris for failing to visit the border, so she decided to go ahead and visit the border. While that did nothing to help solve anything, it made it seem as if the White House was doing something – and with most of the media on their side, that’s more than enough.

On crime, Democrats from the White House on down seem to have finally realized that defunding the police – regardless of what its supporters say it really means – probably isn’t a winning campaign slogan. Instead, Biden seemingly reversed course, vowing to get tough on crime suddenly. Given that he has the bully pulpit of the presidency, even if Biden is able to take only a few executive actions to combat crime, that’s more than enough to counter Republicans’ attacks on the issue. Indeed, Biden and other Democrats can make a new push on gun control, wrapping it in tough-on-crime language that may well be appealing to moderate voters in both parties.

Just as with immigration, Republicans failed to counter Biden’s speech on crime with a substantive proposal of their own, instead again focusing on the rhetorical battle. They could have pointed out that Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has proposed his own series of police reforms, negotiating in good faith with Democrats on the issue. Those negotiations could also be leveraged as a vehicle to combat crime, including measures to increase funding and other resources to police in communities that need it while simultaneously adopting needed reforms. Instead, Republicans seem to be mainly ignoring those efforts, rather than promoting them or even using them politically in any constructive way.

These two issues highlight a consistent, ongoing fault of the Republican Party in general, from the national level straight on down to the local level: constant criticism without any kind of substantive follow-through. With both of these issues, national Republicans failed to score either a symbolic political victory or a substantive policy one. While they may like to pat themselves on the back for driving the conversation by getting Harris to the border and Democrats to back off on defunding police, in fact they did no such thing. Instead, they handed Democrats a gift by pushing them away from politically perilous positions long before the election – and they got absolutely nothing in return.

While these kind of pyrrhic victories might get the politicians scoring the points love from their base, they don’t do anything to make positive policy or grow the party in the long term. In fact, they often accomplish the opposite, making governing more difficult and driving away voters tired of all the negativity. Rather than scoring cheap political points and winning one news cycle, Republicans ought to be focused on securing substantive policy victories – or, failing that, at least laying out their proposals, so Americans know how they’d govern if they won.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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