For weeks leading up to the mid-term elections, GOP lawmakers pounded a steady drum beat– gas prices, crime, inflation, the border.
But in the month since the Nov. 8 election, the rhetoric has shifted to Hunter Biden, Twitter and threats to hold myriad investigations in the House, which Republicans barely won.
Midterm elections historically hurt the president’s party. In 18 of the last 20 elections the president has lost ground in the House by margins ranging from 40 to 60 seats.
Despite Republican predictions of a “red wave,” the election was a red fizzle. Their margin in the House is so thin, a handful of independent-minded GOP lawmakers could shift the vote either way. Democrats still control the Senate.
When the new 118th Congress kicks off with a swearing in Jan. 3, Republicans will hold 220 seats. Democrats will hold 215.
With the ceremony barely two weeks away, Republicans have yet to put forward any proposals to address their key campaign messaging.
Instead the post-election focus has been on Biden and more recently Twitter with threats of endless investigations and possibly even President Biden’s impeachment, none of which will address the nation’s pressing problems.
GOP lawmakers have been fixated on Hunter Biden, a private citizen who has never served in government, yet he has already been thoroughly investigated.
In 2020, Senate Republicans investigated corruption allegations against then-candidate Joe Biden and his son. They found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president.
Hunter Biden had signed on as a highly paid consultant and board member for Burisma Holdings, a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company. At the time, Biden, as vice president, was overseeing the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a rabid Trump supporter and purveyor of misinformation on social media, led the investigation, which echoed “an active Russian disinformation campaign and had been pushed by Mr. Trump,” according to The Times.
The possible appearance of a conflict of interest was the center of the investigation, but an 87-page report, released by the Senate Homeland Security and Finance Committees, contained no evidence of misdeeds.
Democrats noted that all 10 witnesses interviewed by investigators had sworn under oath that neither Vice President Biden nor anyone else had altered American policy on Ukraine because of Hunter Biden.
Democrats further charged Johnson “had abused his Senate powers” to aid Trump’s re-election — and had aided and abetted the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign to influence the vote.
For his part, President Biden said the optics of Hunter Biden’s positions were bad, but he has denied any wrongdoing.
Even so, Republicans have made Hunter Biden a focus of their post-election rhetoric. This time, his supposed laptop computer and its contents have taken center stage.
Tangentially, Twitter has also become a hot button because of internal company efforts to allegedly “suppress” information about Hunter Biden in the run-up to the 2020 election.
Since Elon Musk closed on his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter in October, the multi-billionaire has been releasing internal files and emails relating to Twitter’s handling of the Biden episode.
The FBI seized the laptop in Dec. 2019 from the computer repair shop where Hunter Biden purportedly left it the previous April for repairs.
Eight months after giving the laptop’s hard drive to the FBI, the shop owner alerted then-President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani who, provided a copy to The New York Post.
A month before the election, the New York City tabloid reported details of what it said were emails taken from the laptop hard drive.
The Post claimed the emails raised serious questions about what President Biden knew of his son’s overseas business deals.
Musk’s release of internal Twitter emails and other documents purportedly shows the social media company suppressed coverage of the laptop, including The Post story in the run up to the election.
Twitter suppressed The Post story, preventing users from sharing it. The company suspended the Post’s Twitter account, as well as other accounts that tried to share it, acting on information from unnamed law enforcement agencies that it was possibly part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
Twitter claimed the story violated company policy because it contained information obtained through illegal means. The most damning allegations against Joe Biden remain unproven.
The Post story’s timing was also suspect. The newspaper published it in mid-October obviously aiming for as much impact as possible on the election. So-called “October surprises,” like the kind that sunk Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, have always been suspect and played down by the media.
Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of trust and safety who resigned this month, agreed that Twitter’s handling of the Post story was a mistake during an interview this month.
“We didn’t know what to believe, we didn’t know what was true, there was smoke,” Roth told New York Times writer Kara Swisher.
“Everything about it looked like a hack and leak, like the one carried out by Russian intelligence in the 2016 presidential election.”
Musk handed the documents to independent journalist Matt Taibbi who wrote a lengthy Twitter thread based on the information.
The biggest revelation appeared to be nude photos of Hunter Biden’s private parts, commonly called “revenge porn,” causing widely disparate reactions.
“I’ve pulled web archives of 3 of these tweets. All three are homemade Hunter Biden porn and Hunter Biden dick pics pulled from his laptop. These tweets don’t contain any info on Hunter’s business dealings. Just porn,” wrote investigative journalist Andrew Kerr on Twitter.
More specific documents are supposedly forthcoming, but have yet to materialize, reportedly because of legal issues surrounding their release.
Nonetheless, Marc Thiessen, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush called it a “major scandal” in a Washington Post opinion piece.
But even conservative journals are raising a jaundiced eyebrow. Forbes wrote that the 37-part Twitter thread contained “no bombshells.”
In fact, since the release, conservatives have been shifting the debate to a matter of “free speech” and whether Twitter has unjustly targeted conservatives for suppressing their Tweets.
But Claudia Haupt, associate professor of law and political science at Northeastern University, calls raising free speech concerns a “tired argument” and a “very common rhetorical move to make,” often by conservatives, to contrive a First Amendment problem “where there isn’t one.”
“Private companies are free to moderate speech according to their own community standards, terms of service and moderation guidelines,” Haupt said in a lengthy article on the subject published by the university.
John Wihbey, associate professor of media innovation and technology at Northeastern, notes that content moderation decisions are difficult to make and often conflicting.
At most, the Twitter files reveal how Twitter bungled the response to the Hunter Biden story. The documents reveal disagreements between Twitter employees about how the company handled it, according to Northwestern.
Meanwhile, gas prices and inflation — two GOP bread-and-butter issues — appear to be melting away. Both are trending lower as the Biden administration predicted.
The economy is proving to be resilient. Unemployment is steady at 3.7%; more than 10 million people have found jobs since the pandemic and $9 billion in Black Friday spending set a record.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicted in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview that inflation will be lower in 2023. She was also “hopeful” the labor market will remain “quite healthy.”
The way things are going, “people can feel good about their finances and their personal economic situation,” she said.
Although the predominant talk has been about a looming recession next year, so far it’s shaping up to be mild, if it happens at all. The economy is still producing jobs at a relatively healthy clip.
Analysts were surprised by the latest numbers. In October, the U.S. economy added 261,000 jobs; in November, 263,000 jobs were added, bringing the three-month average to 289,000 jobs per month. The unemployment rate remained near historic lows.
The border remains as chaotic as ever, and some Republicans are still harping on the issue. So far, however, they have yet to advance any concrete proposals.
Immigration has been problematic for decades and neither party has adequately addressed the problem. The Trump administration’s solution — a border wall — failed miserably, and Trump was never able to make Mexico pay for it as he boasted in 2016.
Biden, however, has secured a pledge from Mexico of $1.5 billion to upgrade border security.
If House Republicans have a plan, they have yet to make it public.
Crime has also been a moving target. Republicans claimed during the election that crime, largely in Democratic-run cities, was surging because of lax policies toward criminals. But the truth is mixed.
Crime is up in many major cities. In New York City, robberies are up 38 percent and burglary, 32 percent this year over 2021. Overall, violent crime is up 34 percent. New York is one of the few cities that keep detailed crime statistics.
The FBI, which prepares annual crime reports, complained that too few police departments had returned data for the national figures to be reliable, according to The Washington Post.
The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics released its own figures for 2021 and they showed that violent crime was flat in 2021 — and down in 2020. Its estimates cover people who were victims of violent crime and how often those crimes were reported to police, but exclude homicide.
Indeed, murders are one of the paradoxes that Republicans will have to explain.
In New York City, 13 percent fewer incidents of gun violence were recorded this year compared to 2021 and 12 percent fewer people have been shot. In fact, homicides in New York are down 13 percent this year.
In contrast, violent crime is up in rural America, especially involving firearms, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) The Wall Street Journal noted the alarming trend in an article over the summer.
Eight of the top ten states for gun deaths per 100,000 population are largely governed by Republicans. Mississippi is the worst at 28.6 per 100,000 followed by Louisiana (26.3), Wyoming (25.9), Missouri (23.9), Alabama (23.6) and Alaska (23.5).
Not surprisingly, those states also have the highest gun ownership and the least gun regulation.
In contrast, the states with the fewest guns have the lowest gun deaths and they are all governed by Democrats.
Those states include Hawaii, with 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000; only 8 percent of households own guns. The Aloha State is followed by Massachusetts, 3.7 percent (10 percent gun ownership), New Jersey 5 percent (8 percent gun ownership), Rhode Island, 5.1 percent (11 percent) and, yes, New York, 5.3 percent and 14 percent gun ownership.
The Rand Corp. compiled gun ownership figures, but acknowledged that it was difficult to assess the true level of households with guns.
Although cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are often singled out for gun violence by right-wingers, the cities with the highest gun violence are all located in lax gun law Republican states.
The include Jackson, Miss., 69 gun murders per 100,000 population, Gary, Ind., 64, St Louis, Mo., 50, New Orleans, La., 48, and Memphis, Tenn. 47, according to the CDC.
“The indisputable fact is that where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths,” CNN reported.
Republicans, staunch defenders of the 2nd Amendment, are unlikely to consider any legislation focusing on gun violence or gun safety,
Ironically, the GOP House can also do little to address the street crime lawmakers harped on during the election. That falls under the jurisdiction of state and local governments.
But the bigger — perhaps biggest — problem is how Republicans in Congress have made investigating Hunter Biden a priority. Even worse, they seem more content on scoring political points on social media.
With Democrats in charge of the Senate and Biden in the White House, the slim Republican majority in the House will likely spend the first weeks grandstanding on political issues that will go absolutely nowhere.
But the cost to taxpayers — and the country — will come in lost opportunity to address issues that are pressing on the nation. It’s clear Republicans have already lost sight of that fact.