Aug 5, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Inside McCarthy's new GOP messaging platform

GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy at a press conference.
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has given his GOP colleagues new marching orders for stump speeches between now and November, as incumbents worry about how President Trump's own challenges may strain their re-election bids.

Driving the news: McCarthy delivered a PowerPoint presentation to the GOP conference in person last Thursday at the Capitol Visitor Center, with several members joining via Zoom, lawmakers and aides familiar with the gathering tell Axios.

  • He sent a follow-up email the next morning to members with an anecdote about President John F. Kennedy's first visit to NASA in 1962, when he met a janitor and asked what he did for the space agency.
  • "The janitor famously replied: 'I am helping to put a man on the moon,'" McCarthy wrote, concluding that America was able to win the space race because "everyone — from the President of the United States down to the custodians — clearly understood the mission and worked towards it each day."

What they're saying: McCarthy tells Axios he hopes members weave this messaging into their committee work, constituent outreach in the fall and upcoming legislation as well.

  • "If we win the majority this is what we'd pass," he said. "It's our vision for the future."

The details: The plan highlights "three R's" that Republicans should exhaust on the campaign trail this fall.

  1. "Renew the American Dream" (focused on individuals): School choice, workforce training, expanding broadband in rural communities & 5G, protecting individual freedoms.
  2. "Restore our Way of Life" (focused on communities): Defeating the coronavirus, protecting Americans' health, reopening safely and responsibly, ensuring safe neighborhoods.
  3. "Rebuild the Greatest Economy Ever" (a nationwide goal): Tax deregulation, fixing roads & bridges, "America First" and China-critical messaging around trade and supply chains.

The messaging also ascribes "three Ds" to Democrats:

  1. "Defund our police, border patrol, and military."
  2. "Dismantle our social, economic, and political institutions."
  3. "Destroy our small businesses and entrepreneurs with crushing taxes and regulation" — the GOP leader pointed to the destruction of monuments during recent protests.

Behind the scenes: Many GOP members have been anxious about polling showing Trump trailing Joe Biden in key swing states, lawmakers tell Axios.

  • That led several members to ask McCarthy to produce some sort of united agenda.
  • In an open-mic session after McCarthy's presentation, members including Randy Weber (R-Tex.) gave him a round of applause and shared their plans for the fall.

Republican House members and candidates running for office will adjust the messaging to fit the issues that resonate most with their district, one lawmaker said, but the core messaging is the same.

  • Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said she plans to emphasize the digital divide and broadband access.
  • Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told Axios said he'll play up the China and trade aspect of the platform. "Messaging is challenging, in the midst of a pandemic," he said. "People were asking for this. Members want focus and structure. We as Republicans especially need it in order to be effective if we're given the keys of power again."

Several GOP lawmakers told Axios that they hope the Trump campaign will also embrace this messaging.

  • ”I think the President's campaign should adopt it, which we saw Donald Trump do in 2016, following the convention," said Rep. James French Hill (R-Ark.) recalling the campaign's adoption of some of then-House Speaker Paul Ryan's “Better Way” principles.
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