Try as we might, those of us who dare to challenge economic orthodoxy within the GOP are unlikely to prevail on policy and moral grounds alone. But the politics of today offer us another course that is just as powerful: offering a prescription to protect from impending electoral doom of the party if the course isn’t corrected. Rejecting economic orthodoxy within the GOP and embracing the largest jobs program in American history may be the only antidote to saving the Senate majority and the Trump presidency. 

The last two months have been punishingly bad for the GOP’s electoral prospects. President Donald Trump finds himself underwater with American seniors who feel that the party is prioritizing economic output over their own lives, while GOP Senate leads across the country narrow. Vaunted election analyst Josh Krausher writes ominously “It feels like 2008 all over again, the odds of a big blue wave sweeping Democrats to power are growing, with even red-state Republicans growing nervous about their political position.” 

In one of the narrowest of them all, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado may be at least showing the party that rejecting orthodoxy in a time of crisis is indeed good politics. Gardner’s race was considered a long-shot before the global pandemic even began, and he is focused eagerly on his re-election bid this November. 

In a surprise move, Gardner announced Thursday that he would sign on to Senator Josh Hawley’s ambitious plan for the federal government to pick up a portion of payroll cost for workers across America, in what amounts to the largest jobs program in American history. 

Gardner and Hawley’s audacious proposal lies in stark contrast to the “wait-and-see” approach led by Senate Republican leadership and much of the White House economic team as they struggle to take the reigns on handling the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. To the extent they have proposed policy at all, it has centered around payroll or capital gains tax cuts a far cry from initial rumblings of a massive infrastructure program and industrial policy that were ultimately abandoned.

The Senate GOP would risk being eclipsed be it not for the political ineptitude of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who explicitly chose not to cover payroll for American workers in her ridiculous 3 trillion dollar so-called “relief” bill. Pelosi has inadvertently given the GOP the opportunity for one of the easiest political layups in American history, which is being squandered in favor of the standard issue Republican policy playbook. 

Passage of the Gardner-Hawley plan would dramatically change political dynamics in Washington, quieting some popular resentment against stay-at-home orders and ensuring certainty both for workers and the financial system itself. Paired with the lauded paycheck protection program, it could ensure that the economy emerges from this crisis somewhat intact. 

With tight Senate races in deep-red states like Montana, Kansas, Georgia, Arizona, and Iowa along with all-important swing states in the mix the GOP cannot afford to hew to the tired, old thinking that has doomed it to popular vote losses in the last 6 out 7 presidential elections. Cory Gardner’s embrace of Hawley’s program shows that good policy can also be good politics. 

Saagar Enjeti
Saagar Enjeti is co-host of The Realignment Podcast and Breaking Points.
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