In his inaugural speech, President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” That philosophy has served as the foundation of the modern GOP and over time has expanded to include climatologists and the mainstream media. Fast forward to the current global pandemic and that anti-government brand of identity is complicating the GOP’s ability to execute proper crisis management.
A new poll by CNN found that only 36 percent of Americans consider President Trump a trusted source of information on the coronavirus. This mistrust has buoyed Joe Biden’s lead in national polls and Republicans are now concerned that they have lost their grip on the U.S. Senate with Democrats ahead in at least four GOP-held seats. These findings are forcing Republicans to try and change the narrative from a pandemic response to an economic recovery.
Just last week, Gov. Greg Abbott was pressured by grassroots conservatives to remove the penalties prescribed by his own executive order to keep some businesses closed. Even as confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, the governor is confirming that residents do not have to comply with local orders to wear face masks in public as the state begins to reopen ahead of the recommended CDC guidelines.
Local officials, on the other hand, continue to take cues from public health experts. In Austin/Travis County leaders expanded stay-at-home orders through mid-June and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Tweeted on Monday that, “Doctors tell me it’s important for Texans to focus not on what they can do under the Gov’s changing orders but rather on what they should do based on facts and science. In North Texas, this means: stay home, avoid crowds, keep a 6-foot distance, wear a mask and hygiene until 14 day decline.”
As we inch closer to the November election the push to reopen has coincided with calls for a greater response from the government including aid to state and local governments, additional testing, expanding of vote-by-mail, and additional stimulus checks. A new poll by CNBC found that 74 percent of swing-state voters support sustained direct payments to Americans during the pandemic and this includes a majority of Republicans at 53 percent.
The mood among voters in Texas follows the national trend. A recent Dallas Morning News poll found that most Texans support expanding vote-by-mail including a majority of independents and a plurality of Republicans. Democrats have sued to force the hand of state officials but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has dug in his heels threatening criminal penalties to local officials who offer the option to those previously barred from doing so.
It’s not hard to see the political calculation being made as the same DMN poll found that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is tied with President Donald Trump in the state and voters give Democrats a 51 to 49 percent advantage in a generic ballot for the Texas House. The battle for control of the chamber has taken on more significance during the pandemic because the next session’s budget will originate in the House (it alternates each session). This would open the door to Democrats leading the charge for utilizing the state’s $10.2 billion “Rainy Day Fund”.
President Reagan’s claim that, “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’,” was a lot more attractive when Americans weren’t facing 20 percent unemployment. As it turns out, when you elect politicians that declare you can’t trust the government to rise to the occasion they’ll prove themselves right every time — and we just can’t afford that right now.
Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images