A Republican's 'self-own' on Biden’s infrastructure plan shows how the GOP got caught in a bind

A Republican's 'self-own' on Biden’s infrastructure plan shows how the GOP got caught in a bind
Sen. Marsha Blackburn

On Wednesday evening, Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn sent out a series of tweets attempting to attack President Joe Biden's big push for a new infrastructure bill, called the "American Jobs Plan." But many critics argued that her attacks landed with a thud. Instead of casting Biden or the plan in a negative light, she showed why the GOP will likely find itself in a bind as it tries to attack the Democrats' next big priority.

Her attacks entailed spelling out components of the package:


While some of these items may rile up the base, which is dismissive of climate change, none of the attacks seem likely to turn the public against the plan. It may be true that President Biden is trying to "push through a liberal agenda," but isn't that what one should expect from a Democratic president? Democrats even decided to use her own graphics to promote the plan:

And in fact, the plan is extremely popular. Data for Progressive, a left-leaning polling group, found:

Among all likely voters, we find that the American Jobs Plan is backed by a 52-percentage-point margin (73 percent support, 21 percent oppose). Notably, support for this proposal is bipartisan, garnering an impressive 19-point margin of support from Republicans (57 percent say they support the plan, while 38 percent oppose).

Blackburn's last tweet pointed to the large funding for elder care in the bill, attempting to argue that the plan isn't really about "infrastructure" as Democrats claim. But it's hard to see why voters should really care if every piece of an "infrastructure" bill fits some technical definition of "infrastructure" — what they should care about is whether the bill's components are good ideas. Quibbles about the definitions of different types of funding are quintessentially Washington preoccupations — hardly the type of thing the median voter cares about.

And according to Data for Progress, support for the "care economy" portions of the bill is among the highest of all the components, with 74 percent supporting the idea and only 18 percent opposing it.

Blackburn's tweet plays into a narrative that has been emerging on the right that the plan isn't really about "infrastructure." But ironically, these kinds of attacks may undermine rather than support GOP opposition, because they draw attention to features of the bill that many Americans — indeed, many Republicans — really like.

The Tennessee Republican even undermined her own argument that the "proposal is about anything but infrastructure," since that claim directly followed a tweet about $220 billion for green transportation, which pretty clearly does fall under any reasonable definition of "infrastructure."

And though conservatives might think they can score some points with their own voters by trolling Democrats for caring about green energy and climate change, such appeals are likely to be limited and alienating to most voters. Data for Progress found that 64 percent of voters support spending on clean energy, and only 26 percent of voters oppose it. The right-wing view that focusing on cleaner energy is a waste is deeply unpopular.

Sean McElwee, the executive director of Data for Progress, argued that Blackburn's approach made the problems in the GOP messaging self-evident:

Of course, Republicans won't (and believe they can't) support Biden's proposal for their own political reasons, so they're left either attacking ideas that are quite popular and hoping they can convince the public they're bad, or they can sit back and let Biden enact an extremely popular agenda. Though Republicans could get lucky and still end up with a political advantage in the end, neither messaging approach is that promising for the party. They'll also likely focus on criticizing the high cost of the plan, but that's not likely to be compelling to voters, either, since the GOP was happy to spend trillions upon trillions when Donald Trump was president.

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