Illustrating piece on Senate Republicans
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, Chair of the Senate Republican Conference Credit: Gage Skidmore

“Senate Republicans Lambaste Potential Coronavirus Deal,” reads a headline in Politico.

“On a conference call Saturday morning with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows,” reports the Washington Post, “multiple GOP senators denounced the proposal, attacking the price tag as too big, questioning the overall direction, and criticizing individual proposals, according to several people who participated in the call or were briefed on its contents.”

Similarly, the New York Times says the prospect of a stimulus package approaching $2 trillion (Trump’s latest offer is $1.8 trillion) is “deeply alarming to most Republicans, who are increasingly contemplating their party’s future after Mr. Trump departs the political scene and are determined to reclaim the mantle of the party of fiscal restraint.”

The theme of all three stories is that Senate Republicans will pay a heavy price on Election Day if they approve an expensive Covid stimulus bill. “Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) predicted that advancing such legislation would prove the ‘death knell’ of the GOP majority,” says the Post. In Politico, Sen. John Barrasso (R.-Wyo.) says he fears “an enormous betrayal by our supporters,” and Sen. Rick Scott (R.-Fla.) says, “I don’t get it.”

But none of these people is running for re-election this year! Sen. Lamar Alexander, R.-Tenn., who’s playing a lead role opposing a Covid stimulus bill, is retiring, which is to say he will never run for re-election again.

Meanwhile, among the 21 Senate Republicans who are up for re-election, I can’t find a single one who’s come out publicly against a stimulus deal except for Ben Sasse (R.-Neb.), and that was more than two months ago; I can’t find anything Sasse has said about it lately. If these Senate Republicans have anything at all to say these days about a bipartisan stimulus deal, it’s that Republicans will get creamed if they don’t get one.

News coverage has pointed out that various “vulnerable” Senate Republicans (for example, Susan Collins) are feeling rather desperate for a stimulus deal. But what these stories aren’t making clear is that only about half the Senate Republicans up for re-election this year are thought to be even potentially vulnerable. The other half will probably be fine. Yet none of these relatively safe Senate Republicans has spoken out publicly against a stimulus deal either.

It would seem that a prerequisite to denouncing a potential Covid stimulus deal right now is that you don’t have to face the voters anytime soon.

It’s possible I missed one or two Senate Republicans up for re-election this year who have spoken out lately against a big Covid stimulus. My method for checking is not foolproof. But even if I missed one or two, it will remain true that the Senate Republicans whom we must judge the best experts on what will help or hurt the party’s chances of keeping its Senate majority are not, as a rule, opposing publicly a stimulus deal—even if they’re expected to win.

Imagine that you were sitting on a stove and somebody turned on the burner. “Ouch,” you might say, “that hurts!” Imagine that I, observing you from a distance, were to reply, “No, it doesn’t. What would really hurt would be if someone turned that burner off.” Whose opinion would a disinterested third party value? Whose opinion would that disinterested third party discard? To ask these questions is to answer them.

This article originally appeared in Backbencher

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Timothy Noah

Follow Timothy on Twitter @TimothyNoah1. Timothy Noah is a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly. He is the author of The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It.