In a year when the Republican National Committee skipped writing a party platform and President Trump has offered little in the way of a plan for his second term should he win re-election, the agenda unveiled by House Republicans outside the Capitol on Tuesday was arguably the closest the party has come this year to presenting a road map for governing.
But for those searching for a long-term accounting of where the party would lead the nation, the one-page policy proposal they pitched, billed “The Republican Commitment to America,” offered relatively few answers.
Instead, the document reflected a party preoccupied with navigating the country back to the way things were in February, just before the pandemic took a sledgehammer to the nation’s health and economy — and when Republicans still felt they might have a reasonable shot at retaking the House majority — and then freezing the clock.
“Republicans helped build the greatest economy in a generation and the American way of life was thriving,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the plan’s main author, said as he laid it out on Tuesday. “We will do it again. That is our promise to you.”
Though they called for ambitious new testing and vaccine deployment, it was far from the kind of forward-looking conservative vision that leading Republicans once insisted they needed to offer voters, and that past party leaders have rolled out every two years almost like clockwork. There was no mention of spending restraint or cutting entitlement programs, nor the party’s yearslong quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The omissions were a bow to political reality at a time when Republicans are toiling to avoid losing an even larger share of the suburban voters who have flocked to Democrats in recent years, a trend that appears likely to continue in November. Mr. Trump has reminded Republicans just how powerful a political force a strong economy can be, and has demonstrated that adherence to what were once considered core party principles is no longer required. And undoubtedly, the gargantuan task of pulling the country out from a once-in-a-generation catastrophe will preoccupy whomever voters put in charge of the government come January.
But the thin agenda also underscored how thoroughly congressional Republicans have transformed themselves in the age of Mr. Trump even from the recent days when, under Speaker Paul D. Ryan, they prided themselves on being the intellectual engine of their party.
Four years into his presidency, the party has followed his lead and shied away from stances on the nation’s biggest, most intractable problems, like how to fix a broken health care system or address the ballooning national debt, that were once considered Republican orthodoxy. The party of free trade has mostly embraced Mr. Trump’s protectionist stance. The party of fiscal responsibility has overseen a record-setting explosion of the national debt. The party of free enterprise has stood by, mostly without criticism, as Mr. Trump has meddled in markets and individual businesses.
What has been left behind are an ideological hodgepodge of narrower policies and cultural wedge issues, a commitment to tax cuts at nearly any cost and, above all else, the vilification of Democrats.
On a sun-soaked morning in front of the Capitol, dozens of masked lawmakers gathered with Mr. McCarthy on Tuesday to tick through a range of proposals under slogans including “Restore Our Way of Life,” “Rebuild the Greatest Economy in History” and “Renew the American Dream” — all headings on a slickly produced website created for the occasion.
Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas, pledged to make permanent the $1.5 trillion tax cut Republicans passed into law before they lost the House, making no mention of its contribution to the soaring national debt.
Representative Pete Stauber, Republican of Minnesota, highlighted proposed investments in policing and body cameras, saying nothing about the police violence and nationwide protests for racial justice that have made law enforcement a top issue this campaign season.
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming — the party’s highest-ranking woman, who has made a point of separating herself from some of Mr. Trump’s policies and is widely considered to be jockeying for a top leadership position beyond his presidency — spent most of her time blaming Democrats for forest fires raging across the West and the fires set by mobs in America’s cities.
“Every day you see the damage of years of Democrat policies,” Ms. Cheney said. She had little to say about Republican alternatives.
While Republicans glossed over their attempts to undo the health care law that has resulted in coverage for tens of millions of Americans, the document did include a pledge to protect coverage for pre-existing medical conditions — though there was no discussion of how. There was no plan for overhauling the immigration system, besides “secure our border, and enforce our immigration laws.” Discussion of trade was mostly limited to plans to try to break the country’s dependence on Chinese exports as part retaliation, part protection for past and future health crises.
And after years of party platforms calling for painful belt-tightening of social safety net programs, the Republicans merely proposed “reaching bipartisan consensus to protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare and reduce our debt” — a position unlikely to offend anyone.