Opinion Take it from the ad buys: The GOP ‘nihilistic negation’ agenda is nigh

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HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Dana Milbank
Columnist |
September 12, 2022 at 6:39 p.m. EDT


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The midterm elections are just 57 days away — time for Republicans to bring out the big words.
Tech billionaire and GOP megadonor Peter Thiel posed a question to the nattering nabobs of the Republican Party at a conservative conference on Sunday. “Should we maybe have more of a positive agenda?” he asked, complaining, “We’re leaning way too far into pure nihilistic negation.”
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My first reaction upon hearing Thiel’s admonition is that it’s going to go right over Kevin McCarthy’s head. Accused of “nihilistic negation,” the House GOP leader is liable to respond: “But I haven’t said anything bad about Egypt!”
Still, Thiel’s criticism is spot on, and he gets points for consistency. While most of the party has been engaged in an everything-sucks, destroy-the-system campaign that is as dishonest as it is relentless, candidates bankrolled by Thiel have indeed been coming up with new ideas. They’ve floated enacting a federal “personhood” law (which would ban abortion even in cases of rape), privatizing Social Security and even replacing American democracy with something like a monarchy.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s why most Republicans favor pure nihilistic negation.


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Likewise, the head of the National Republican Senate Committee, Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), offered his version of a positive agenda earlier this year, but Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) quickly smacked him down for proposing a tax hike on half of Americans and a phaseout of Social Security and Medicare. The two have been in a simmering dispute ever since.
After much hemming and hawing, McCarthy is reportedly planning to come out with an agenda next week. He’s expected to offer a “Commitment to America,” which is a knockoff of the GOP’s 1994 “Contract With America.” Yet early signs are that it will accentuate the negative, too. (One commitment: “put an end to ‘Build Back Better.’ ”)
For a clear indication of Republicans’ plans for the final eight weeks of the campaign, don’t watch McCarthy’s mouth. Watch where his money is going.
The McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, the main super PAC for House Republicans, has pledged to spend $162 million on the airwaves in ads this year in the handful of contested House races.
Over the past month, the fund has posted 35 ads on its YouTube channel that focus on the November elections. Of these, only one is positive. The rest? Pure nihilistic negation.
“Carl Marlinga made his living representing sexual predators. Now he wants to represent you,” announces one ad, in Michigan, targeting a Democrat who worked as a judge, prosecutor and criminal-defense lawyer.
“His first big job? Working for a senator who was indicted for bribery,” proclaims another ad, in California, attacking Democrat Adam Gray, who wasn’t implicated in any crime as a young legislative director for a state senator.
Another, attacking Democrat Hillary Scholten in Michigan, claims she “dismissed the destruction and praised the rioters” after violence at a racial-justice protest. The ad concludes: “She’s with them, not us.” The ad cites a Facebook post of Scholten’s from May 31, 2020, that said precisely the opposite: “I’m pleading with those who take to the streets to make that effort peaceful and to not resort to violence and destruction.”
Many of the ads are no more than Trump-style name-calling. “Weak.” “Crooked.” “Self-serving.” “The worst kind of politician.”
“Vote Against Jahana Hayes: Completely Delusional” is the name of an ad in which several (apparently White) voters are shown a clip of (Black) Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.). They comment: “Insulting. … Completely delusional. … It’s laughable.”
One refers to Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) as “clueless Katie” — three times in 30 seconds.
“Tony Vargas Isn’t Just Liberal, He’s Crazy Liberal” is the title of one attacking a Democratic challenger in Nebraska. It calls him “crazy liberal” twice.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic challenger Chris DeLuzio is identified as a “Radical Socialist Professor.”
Some at least focus on issues before Congress, in a manner of speaking. Several attack Democratic lawmakers for supporting covid-relief legislation last year, though it is identified only as “a bill that gave millions to golf courses, ski slopes and luxury resorts” and sending “checks to inmates like the Boston Marathon bomber.” The Congressional Leadership Fund repeats the debunked claim that the IRS is “targeting people making under $75,000” with audits. The usual labels recur: “socialist green new deal,” “no borders” and “defund the police.”
In all, I learned a great deal in those 35 ads about the reckless, disastrous, out-of-touch, extremist Democratic agenda. But not once in those 17½ minutes of nihilistic negation did I hear anything that might approximate an alternative.