COVID-19 is keeping the New Hampshire House of Representatives out of their Statehouse digs in Concord. Too bad they can’t just skip this week’s session and stay home. It would be their first big win of 2022.
OK, that’s not possible. The House has a duty to vote on Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes, and they have new legislative maps to pass. But the next three days are going to be a reminder that when you put 200 Granite State Republicans in the same room, bad things happen.
Particularly in an election year.
Legislative business revolves around a calendar, and this year so does politics. Democrats want every day to be January 6. They want to talk about the chaos and violence Trump supporters and QAnon kooks inflicted on the U.S. Capitol and connect it to the entire Republican Party.
The “Save The Date” on every NHGOP House member’s calendar should be November 8: Election Day. When Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) gavels them into session, the only question they should be asking themselves is how what they’re saying today will sound nine months from now.
Based on the bills Republicans hope to debate this week, the answer is “awful.”
A smart NHGOP would show up on Wednesday, vote on the vetoes, approve the maps, then table everything else and head for the nearest bar. A smart GOP would heed the adage that when your opponent is digging himself into a hole, stay out of his way.
That is not the NHGOP. No, members of the various anti-vaccination/anti-government/anti-“winning lots of seats next November” caucuses that make up the GOP coalition are instead going to demand long, loud, and off-putting debates designed to thrill the fringe and frighten everyone else.
And so there will be legislation on abortion brought to the floor, the one issue likely to help Democrats next fall. Rather than take their win — polls show most people agree with the six-month limit passed last year — some House Republicans will insist on pushing for more. When a proposal to re-work the ultrasound language that would take a club out of the Democrats’ hands comes up for a vote, they’ll fight against it.
Rather than disarming Democrats on the abortion issue, they’ll seize that club and beat themselves in the head with it.
The same will happen on COVID-19. Gov. Chris Sununu has shown Republicans the political sweet spot: Yes to vaccines, no to mandates. Democrats have proposed forcing every school child to get the COVID jab, including 5 and 6 year-olds. That’s a loser, which makes it the perfect bill to debate for hours on the House floor.
Instead, some House Republicans are pushing their own mandate — an order banning private business owners from deciding for themselves if they want to require COVID-19 vaccines for employees. Instead of leaving people alone to make their own decisions, these Republicans are determined to intervene. Expect lots of “I’d rather take a bullet than get the shot” rhetoric. Music to Democrats’ ears.
Some of those zealous Republicans are emboldened by the idea that Democrats are so far down it doesn’t matter what they do. Joe Biden, inflation and AOC-style kookery will prevail no matter how much insanity the GOP unleashes this week. And they may be right.
On Tuesday, two new polls hit. Morning Consult found that the GOP’s brand has largely recovered from the damage of January 6. The percentage of Americans who say the party’s headed in the right direction is higher today than it was a year ago. If that’s true, the damage Democrats inflict this week with their “democracy’s in danger” messaging is unlikely to last.
CNBC also released a poll finding President Biden’s overall disapproval rating reached a new high in December, in large part because his COVID numbers have collapsed. A 55 percent majority of voters now say they disapprove of his leadership on the pandemic, a stunning turnaround.
If Democrats continue with their “deny, deny, deny” strategy on inflation, COVID foul-ups, the border, etc. Republicans are all but bulletproof.
But that’s not how politics works. Just ask George H.W. Bush, who went from 80 percent approval to “losing to a chubby, skirt-chasing draft dodger” in the blink of a political eye.
Besides, if Republicans really want to get serious legislation passed, they should remember that’s a lot easier to do when you’ve got a 50-seat majority rather than a 15-seat one. If the current political trends continue, the NHGOP could be looking at a 2010-sized majority (298-102). Plus, the Democrats who survive a Red Wave are going to be in deep-blue corners of the state, leaving the more progressive members in place.
A smart, “less-is-more” House GOP strategy this week could set up the next Speaker with a supermajority of Republicans facing off against a Democratic caucus full of Sherry Frosts and Nicole Klein Knights. The sky will be the limit.
All the NHGOP has to do is seize the opportunity not to seize the opportunity. Can they do it?
Probably not. But there’s a first time for everything.