We’re only two days into the 115th Congress, and you could argue that Republicans have already made two easily-avoided PR errors. With their (quickly rescinded) vote to cripple the Office of Independent Ethics, they signaled to the public that they no longer wanted to be held to any kind of ethical oversight. Mistake number one. No doubt about that one.
The other one is a little trickier. From an objective perspective, the new rules prohibiting protests on the House floor make perfect sense. The stunt the Democrats pulled this summer, when they essentially shut down the business of the Capitol with their gun control “sit-in,” was unacceptable, silly, and deserving of scorn.
From a partisan perspective, it’s also defensible. What better hunk of red meat to throw to the base than a bit of revenge against Democrats? Oh, you thought you were so clever and cool with your little protest? Awesome. Take one of these $2,500 fines with you and see how that feels. Next time, bring a little professionalism with you to Washington and quit playing games on the taxpayers’ clock.
But from the perspective of political gamesmanship, this move could go terribly wrong. Let’s be serious here; to half of these lawmakers, $2,500 is something they might find in the lint trap after a heavy load of laundry. It’s nothing. It’s no deterrent at all. If anything, it’s an incentive for rich Democrats to pull this stunt again. And this time, they can show the public how brave and selfless they are by risking their paychecks for the sake of THE CAUSE.
Furthermore, it gives Democrats the opportunity to push the narrative that Republicans are “scared” of an open debate about gun control. Rep. Katherine Clark, one of the architects of the summer protest, jumped to take advantage of that very opening on Wednesday.
“We connected with the American people through different technological means of communication, and they were embarrassed,” Clark said. “They felt they lost control of their message. So now they’re using the House rules committee to gag debate by muzzling the American people.”
The problem, ultimately, isn’t that Republicans are making these moves. The problem is that they make them and then let the Democrats and the liberal media spin the story to the public. This was the problem during the Obama administration, and it’s already threatening to be a problem for the new Trump era. Republicans desperately need to start getting better at messaging or they are going to take a beating in the press for the next couple of years.
If they aren’t sure how to do that, they might want to take a look at the incoming president for a few basic tips.