For a long time now, House Democrats’ messaging strategy has been a simple one: Point out GOP dysfunction and wonder aloud how a party beset by internal battles could be trusted to run the country.
But with the ascension of Speaker Paul Ryan and passage of a budget deal that raised spending caps and the federal debt ceiling, his opponents are preparing a shift in tone—even if they’re not conceding that the days of Republican infighting are over.
Now, Democrats are casting Ryan’s rise to the top as a sign that the ultraconservative wing of the GOP has taken over. Instead of mocking Republicans’ failure to do things—fund the government, elect a leader, etc.—they’re issuing dire warnings about what might happen if they actually enact their own policies.
“It’s all going to boil down to a contrast, and the contrast is House Democrats fighting to lift wages and strengthen paychecks and make education affordable, while House Republicans are fighting for bigger tax cuts for the rich and to protect special interests,” said Rep. Steve Israel, who runs House Democrats’ messaging strategy and helmed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee the previous two cycles.
Democrats aren’t yet crediting Republicans as a unified bunch, but Ryan’s 236-vote backing in the speaker election—along with some early signals of good faith from the conservatives who frequently clashed with former Speaker John Boehner—have at least quelled some of the frantic party soul-searching of a few weeks ago.