To Win in 2022, The GOP Should Focus on Its State Success | Opinion

National Republicans have spent much of the last few months confounded by a challenge. Their opponents are attempting to compel them to choose between embracing Donald Trump and rejecting him. The former president's shadow looms over everything—and will, until he announces his intentions for 2024.

A lot can happen between now and then. GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) need to go to the American people now with alternatives to what the Democrats are offering. Waiting on Trump to make up his mind or worrying about what he will say is a big mistake.

The Republicans came out of the last election in a much stronger position than many commentators are willing to acknowledge. They gained seats in the U.S. House and, were it not for Trump's post-election temper tantrum, would have maintained their majority in the U.S. Senate instead of losing two seats in Georgia they should have easily won.

Trump's campaign autopsy put the blame for the president's defeat on a failure to manage the COVID crisis effectively. That may have been more perception than reality—since his inauguration, Biden has done little more than stick to the plan already in place regarding what to do after a vaccine was developed. Yet, having voted for the "moderate" Democrat who would "fix" the pandemic, many Republicans and Independents now find themselves incredulous at the speed with which he's moved to the hard left.

Biden hasn't been able to get his agenda through, but not because the GOP has pushed back persuasively. The GOP is benefitting from an ideological split among their Democratic opponents who, with the narrowest of majorities in both chambers, are led by two spectacularly unimaginative leaders. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are intent on getting everything passed in one or two bills. With the slim majority they have, that's a bad strategy.

Mitch McConnell
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (2nd L) arrives at a weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon with former Sen. David Perdue (L) at the U.S. Capitol July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans held a weekly policy luncheon to discuss the GOP agenda. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The GOP leadership needs to reflect on how long it can go before it must posit substantive alternatives to the Democrats' radicalism. It needs to pivot and refocus the conversation on the most important issue: jobs and the economy.

While the economy is adding jobs, it's not as many as most economists predict it should be. Republicans should find it galling that Biden claims the credit when his initiatives are job killers. The jobs we're seeing the economy add were created under Trump after the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act but eliminated because of the lockdowns that governors—most of them Democrats—kept in place far too long.

Instead of focusing on Washington, McConnell, McCarthy, RNC Chairman Ronna McDaniel and the rest of the GOP leadership should direct the American people's attention to the states. That's where the contrast between the two parties really shows.

It's the Republican states where jobs are coming back the fastest. The five states with the lowest unemployment rates in June 2021 have Republican governors and at least nominal GOP legislative majorities. The eight with the highest unemployment rate are led by Democrats. Republican leadership in the states is succeeding first because their economic fundamentals were sound to begin with. And second because the governors of those states, unlike their Democratic counterparts, had the good sense to suspend the unemployment bonus payments that allowed people to stay at home drawing checks rather than look for work.

In Arizona and Ohio, for example, GOP governors Doug Ducey and Mike DeWine just signed off on tax cuts that will improve the business climate and the outlook for family budgets already being squeezed by "Bidenflation," with consumer prices already up by more than 5 percent over last year. In Mississippi, GOP leaders like House Speaker Philip Gunn are pulling together a plan to increase competitiveness and attract jobs by phasing out the state income tax. All this is happening at the same time that Joe Biden and his administration are trying to raise taxes through the roof in the U.S. while getting the industrialized nations of the world to agree to adopt a growth-killing minimum global corporate tax.

The GOP has a compelling tale to tell. It's a story of how one political party will, if given the chance, take the American people down a path leading to limited government, more personal choice in key areas of life like health care and education, lower taxes, incentives to grow the economy and new jobs while the other party is primarily concerned with making government bigger and then feeding its unending hunger through higher taxes. The choice could not be clearer, so why not talk about it?

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International and other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.