Aug 10, 2021 - Podcasts

Inside the GOP’s current playbook

It may seem like the 2022 midterms are far off, but issues like rising crime, border crossings and inflation are already starting to shape political discourse and early Republican campaigns.

  • Plus, the Taliban seizes more cities in Afghanistan.
  • And, why it’s extra easy to get a car loan right now.

Guests: Axios' Stef Kight, Dave Lawler, and Courtenay Brown.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today.

It’s Tuesday, August 10th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: the Taliban seizes more cities in Afghanistan. Plus, why it’s extra-easy to get a car loan right now. But first, today’s One Big Thing: inside the GOP’s current playbook.

NIALA: It may seem like the 2022 midterms are far away, but they're closer than you think. We're already halfway through 2021! And issues like rising crime, border crossings and inflation are starting to shape our political discourse and these early campaigns. Stef Kight is a political reporter for Axios and has been tracking, especially how GOP candidates are using the latest headlines. Good morning, Stef.

STEF KIGHT: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: So it's too soon to know or predict how the 2022 midterms are going to shake out. We're not talking about that, but why is it important to start paying attention to this early messaging?

STEF: Well, first of all, it's because as you pointed out, 2022 is right around the corner and Republicans are gunning to take back control of Congress, both chambers of Congress, if they can. And so we're starting to see that strategy play out now. And of course, typically the minority party already has an advantage. It's expected that they're going to make gains at least a little bit in the midterm season, but we're also starting to see the GOP really pick on a few key issues that have become big issues lately, that includes inflation, the rising of prices, rising crime in cities. They want to try to tie that to Democratic calls to defund the police last year and then also the rise in border crossings we've been seeing lately.

NIALA: As we see members of Congress heading home for the next few weeks. What specifically are you going to hear from Republican lawmakers? And does that depend on what part of the country they're in, whether you'll hear more about say rising crime versus inflation versus the border?

STEF: Certainly, you know, of course, especially House members are going to go back and talk about issues that are very specific to their districts. But I did talk to spokespeople for the Republican arms that focus on both House races and Senate races, and both told me that they are urging people to especially talk about the rising prices, to talk about inflation when they go back home. They feel like according to their polling that that's going to be a really strong issue for a lot of their voters and something your average person sees and experiences and that they think that they can tie to Democrats and tie to President Biden in a way that could boost them come 2022.

NIALA: Now in Washington, this is coming on the heels of a big win for Democrats with the infrastructure bill. How is that playing out though in home districts outside of D.C.?

STEF: That is - It is going to be seen as a big win for President Biden. I think that's something that they can point to and say, “Hey, look, we actually worked together with Republicans. We got this done. These are things that are going to impact your communities.” But we're also seeing Democrats move forward on the much bigger multi-trillion dollar bill that will be passed only by Democrats. And Republicans think that bill in particular - that trillions of dollars that will be passed only by Democrats - they can use to kind of scare voters and say, “Look, they're spending all of this money while prices are rising and this is only going to get worse.”

NIALA: How are Democrats responding to all of it?

STEF: Democrats, first of all, have talked a lot about their Covid response. It’s been one area that they think is really strong. They've also pointed to their child tax credit, and they think that by promoting the things that they have done by pointing voters to “Look, we got these things done for you. We made sure you got checks in the mail to help you get through Covid,” that that will send a stronger message than Republicans pointing to all these bad, scary things like the border and rising crime.

NIALA: Axios political reporter, Stef Kight. Thanks, Stef.

STEF: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: violence grows in Afghanistan.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Last week we spoke with one Afghan translator who's trying to get himself and his family out of Afghanistan as violence escalates and the U.S. withdraws at the end of this month. Well, the violence has grown worse just since last week with the Taliban rapidly seizing cities in the last few days. Dave Lawler, Axios’ world editor is with us now. Hi, Dave.


NIALA: Why are things deteriorating across Northern Afghanistan right now?

DAVE: So what we're seeing now is the Taliban, which had already been gaining ground in a lot of rural areas of the country, targeting provincial capitals and really with a pace that we have never seen before from them before taking territory. This is really, pretty shocking development, in the final weeks of the U.S. presence in the country and obviously these are more heavily populated areas. So we're seeing some pretty devastating scenes for people who've been caught up in the fighting there as well.

NIALA: What is that like in terms of the humanitarian situation for the people in those cities in Afghanistan?

DAVE: So according to the government, at least 3,000 people have been killed in this offensive with another 300,000 displaced. Those numbers are very hard to verify or to really estimate. But we've also seen from UNICEF that just in the past few days of fighting, at least 27 children have been killed and dozens wounded. And so, this is something that is coming into people's neighborhoods, into people's homes, as the Taliban advances around Northern Afghanistan.

NIALA: Dave, you mentioned the Afghan government, are they putting up a fight?

DAVE: It's kind of a ragtag defense in places of militias that are loyal to the government. Some local forces, the national special forces are sort of the best that the country has to offer right now but basically what we're seeing is that the Taliban is advancing in so many places at once that the government just doesn't have the capacity to defend all of these places.

NIALA: And so what is the Pentagon's response to all of this? Is the withdrawal, I presume, still going?

DAVE: The withdrawal is still going. The U.S. troops will be ending their mission in Afghanistan by the end of this month. The question is whether there's either a will or a way to continue to provide some air support to the Afghan government. That has been a crucial factor in keeping the Taliban from advancing on some of these provincial capitals in the past, you know, when they start to gain territory, the U.S. would send in aircraft. It's unclear what the Pentagon strategy is going to be after August 31st on that front.

NIALA: Axios’ world editor, Dave Lawler. Thank you, Dave.

DAVE: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We know demand for cars has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Now Axios’ markets reporter Courtenay Brown tells us it's now easier to get an auto loan than it's been in years. Hey Courtenay.


NIALA: Courtenay, there's a horrible irony here that it's easy to get a car loan, but it's actually really hard to get a car these days.

COURTENAY: If you are lucky enough to get a car, you can get a car loan.

NIALA: Why is that?

COURTENAY: I think banks have seen loan demand generally fall off a cliff. But auto loans have been the one bright spot. One thing that lenders are doing, they are making interest rates lower. They are making the loans longer. Both of those things are two factors that contribute to lower monthly payments, and it makes the loan that much more appealing.

NIALA: And is this for everyone across the credit spectrum?

COURTENAY: One analyst I spoke to put it this way: Banks aren't just giving loans to anyone. One thing we've seen happen during the pandemic is people's credit scores have improved generally. So around a third of the auto loan originations that are happening are going to people with credit scores above 760.

NIALA: Does this say anything about the broader health of the economy?

COURTENAY: What we're seeing right now is a really, really sharp reversal from last year when it looked like the economy was about to fall off the cliff. Banks buttoned up conditions, aka, they made it more difficult for the average person to get a loan, because they didn't know what was going to happen. Right now, the economy is doing really great and banks are feeling good about lending to consumers.

NIALA: Courtenay Brown writes the Axios’ Closer newsletter. Thanks Courtenay.

COURTENAY: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: Before we go today - maybe like me you’ve been following the elephant herd that’s spent the past year journeying across southwest China. Experts don’t know why, but 14 Asian elephants wandered away from their reserve and roamed more than 300 miles - raiding everything from cornfields to truckloads of pineapple. A team of people, hundreds of vehicles and drones helped guide the herd across the Yuanjiang river in Yunnan on Sunday night and are following a manmade path to their reserve. From what we know - they're all doing well - including a calf born on the journey.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Go deeper