Fox News propagandists are rallying around Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) policy blueprint for what the Republican Party should do if they win legislative majorities in the 2022 midterms. Fox’s efforts are complicating Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) attempt to avoid political blowback by deep-sixing Scott’s radical agenda, which would raise taxes on half of Americans while putting Social Security and Medicare at risk.
Fox host Laura Ingraham praised the “unabashedly populist” plan and questioned whether McConnell was trying to shoot it down because he is “worried about his top spot on the GOP totem pole” during Monday night’s broadcast (during the segment, extremely unsubtle on-screen text read, “Out With The Old, In With The New”).
Ingraham then brought on Scott to plug his plan and defend himself against McConnell’s criticism. She went on to slam McConnell’s refusal to produce such a document as “why people hate Washington,” and touted Scott’s willingness to do so as “pragmatic.”
The GOP has in recent years been loath to detail where it stands on major policy issues. The party did not even create a platform for the 2020 Republican National Convention. While its officials are quick to criticize President Joe Biden’s administration, they often seem more focused on latching onto Fox’s culture war obsessions than on developing detailed policy proposals. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has yet to produce his promised agenda, while McConnell openly says he won’t reveal what Senate Republicans will do if they win the majority until after they actually do so.
Scott tried to fill that void when he released “An 11 Point Plan to Rescue America” on February 22. The Florida Republican currently chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he’s been floated as both a potential 2024 presidential candidate and as a potential McConnell replacement, and he is a Fox fixture, with at least 38 weekday appearances since Biden took office. These credentials give his ideas more weight than those of the average senator. And those ideas, as unveiled in his glossy 31-page document, are deeply radical.
Scott’s agenda is stuffed with hard-edged culture war salvos Republicans will find familiar from President Donald Trump’s rallies and Fox primetime monologues. It features a call to treat socialism as “a foreign combatant,” a horrifyingly eliminationist treatment of trans people, attacks on the use of so-called “critical race theory” in schools and the military, and the lie that Democrats want to “destroy our democracy” through “election rigging.”
But Scott is also trying to revive the unpopular austerity politics that long characterized Republican discourse but that the party has downplayed since Trump took over. His plan that “all Americans should pay some income tax” would increase taxes for more than half the country; his proposal to “immediately cut the IRS funding and workforce by 50%” would make it much easier for the wealthiest to get away with not paying up; his limits on salaries and service for government bureaucrats would devastate the effectiveness of federal agencies; and his pledge that “all federal legislation sunsets in 5 years” would put Social Security and Medicare at risk.
This all sounded great to Fox host Sean Hannity. The sometime GOP operative provided Scott with a favorable venue to pitch his plan on the night of its release. “I want to applaud you,” Hannity told Scott after running down a few of the blueprint’s items. “I'd like to see the House and the Senate come together on these issues, make these promises to the American people, get elected and then fulfill those promises.”
McConnell, however, recognizes that it will be more difficult for Republicans to win elections if they become associated with a plan to raise taxes on most Americans and risk the elimination of Social Security and Medicare, and has sought to prevent that from happening. The minority leader denounced Scott’s manifesto at a March 1 press conference, specifically calling out its implications for taxes, Social Security, and Medicare.
But Scott has attracted key support from Fox’s propagandists, even after McConnell tried to quash his plan. They wield considerable influence in the GOP, but they answer only to their right-wing audiences, not the majority of voters, and so are more comfortable publicly supporting positions that would immiserate vast swaths of the public.
“I think McConnell is making a mistake,” Fox contributor Ben Domenech said the day after the minority leader’s rebuke. “If you look at Rick Scott’s plan, I think it is largely something that just about every Republican can agree with and that most of their voters will agree with and that they can run on.”
Former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow offered similar remarks on his Fox Business show on March 4. “Rick Scott, I guess he's in some kind of brouhaha,” he said. “But at least he’s got an alternative plan. I am looking for an alternative fiscal plan to stop the spending and the taxing and the regulating.”
Fox contributor and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also endorsed Scott’s agenda. “Republicans need to rally around Sen. Rick Scott's 11 point policy plan to move the country forward,” he tweeted on March 5.
And Fox host Maria Bartiromo hosted Scott and touted his proposal on March 6. “The points are incredibly practical, Senator. And we so appreciate your leadership on that,” she said.