The Georgia runoffs highlighted two things that have hampered Republican efforts to forge a governing majority: outlandish personality politics and a lack of policy reform. The president’s escalating efforts to overturn the election were a turbocharged version of the norm-breaking that has characterized the Trump White House. Trump-as-showman might turn out key voters, but it’s not clear other candidates can copy his persona (and he did lose the popular vote in both his presidential runs). Moreover, constant provocation and grievance politics take a civic toll. The mayhem at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday — with mobs assaulting the process of democratic government — shows the consequences of recklessly stoking the flames of outrage. Maintaining republican order demands much more than the politics of anger.
A policy vacuum has political consequences, too. On the campaign trail, Perdue and Loeffler had lackluster policy messages. That policy vacuum made the battle over the $2,000 checks loom particularly large in the election. And, even though Perdue and Loeffler said they supported those checks, the Republican blockade in the Senate tied those candidates to the austerity politics that has all-too-often hurt Republicans at the polls.
If a combination of Very Online cultural feuds and stagnant corporatism can’t break 50 percent in Georgia, that might be a sign of the limits of that combination for Republicans. One of the themes of the past five years is that outrage politics and the absence of a forward-looking policy agenda are locked in a mutually reinforcing feedback loop. Republicans might find more political success by taking a step toward a reformist policy agenda that does more to promote families, work, and growth.