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Washington is trapped in a bad spy novel

Impeachment messaging battle is important for GOP, but so is keeping focus on its economic wins

A national conversation between Republicans and voters about how it has cut taxes and regulations, reduced unemployment and increased wages would put in proper context Democrats’ focus on investigation, impeachment and raw politics, Winston writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A national conversation between Republicans and voters about how it has cut taxes and regulations, reduced unemployment and increased wages would put in proper context Democrats’ focus on investigation, impeachment and raw politics, Winston writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

OPINION — It’s been a bad week in Washington and it’s not likely to get any better soon. In fact, it’s beginning to feel like the whole town and everyone in it is trapped in a really bad spy novel.

People are confused by what’s become a three-year plot that gets harder and harder to follow. They’re not sure who’s a good guy or a bad guy, and they’re worried that the whole thing won’t end well.

[The women trying to impeach Trump — and the men making it so damn hard]

It’s not just spy vs. spy these days in the nation’s capital. There are pro-Russian Ukrainians and anti-Russian Ukrainians cozying up to American politicians of both stripes. Questionable Chinese investors, shadowy academics and covert femme fatales. Mysterious billion-dollar investment funds and once secret, now controversial presidential conversations about billions in foreign aid. Oligarchs and patriarchs breaking bread and maybe the law or maybe not.

There are anonymous whistleblowers who may be heroes or partisan plants and exotic locales that few people can find on a map. And intelligence agencies on both sides of the pond are up to their eyeballs in the whole mess. You need a cheat sheet just to keep track of an ever-expanding cast of characters and plot twists.

Washington has become a place filled with conspiracy theories (which doesn’t mean some of them aren’t true), full of intrigue and more than a little “fear and loathing” as dueling investigations, impeachment and the Barr inquiry dominate the media.

Polls are showing a tightening on the impeachment question raising flags for Republicans, but polls are not predictors. They reflect the current political environment and both parties are fighting to control the narrative as impeachment moves forward.

Republicans and Democrats understand that how people judge the fairness and the credibility of the Democrats’ case against the president will have a tremendous impact on the outcome of next year’s elections — not only for the president but for Congress as well. That means winning the impeachment messaging battle is crucial to both sides.

But Republicans enter the arena with one additional, distinct advantage — The economy.

While impeachment is all-consuming for the news media and Washington, it’s not driving the lives of most Americans. For them, at least those not inhabiting the strident bases of both parties, what happened during President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president may be important. But the economy, jobs and wages are still more important.

The country’s record-setting economy is a tremendous asset, not only for the president but for House and Senate Republicans going into 2020, and the GOP election strategy needs to reflect that political reality.

Both the president’s reelection campaign and the RNC have the resources to help shape the choice for voters as the impeachment investigation moves forward. And it’s not by attacking Biden or Pelosi. What is needed now is a fully-funded, robust communications effort across all platforms to define the positive state of the economy and the Republican policies that got us here.

A national conversation between Republicans and voters about how the GOP has cut taxes and regulations, reduced unemployment to historic levels and increased wages over the past three years would put in proper context the Democrats’ focus on investigation, impeachment and raw politics.

There’s a reason the Democrats, especially their presidential candidates, rarely talk about their economic proposals. Most seem to be limited to how much they can tax the wealthy to pay for what amounts to free-stuff socialism.

Republicans have a tremendous political advantage going into 2020, but only if they are willing to use it. They didn’t in 2018 when the Republican message focused on immigration and telling voters that Nancy Pelosi would take away their tax cut. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans didn’t think they got a tax cut. Of course, almost every working American did, and Republicans are overdue to make the case for what their economic policies have done and what they intend to do going forward.

Unemployment is at 3.5 percent — the lowest in almost 50 years — and has stayed at 3.8% or lower for the last eight months. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released data showing 136,000 jobs were created in September.

Weekly earnings August 2019 were the highest since December 1978, and more than 7 million fewer people are on food stamps compared to 2013. And while tax cuts were helping stimulate the economy, the IRS collected a record of roughly $3.47 trillion in total income taxes last year.

These results reflect Jack Kemp’s argument that Democrats judge their success by how many people government helps. Republicans judge success by how many people government doesn’t have to help.

To say that the economy is exceeding expectations is an understatement. What party could ask for a better lead-in to a presidential election? Republicans have a positive economic story to tell, and they need to tell it now.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.

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