WASHINGTON -- In the age of Donald Trump, Republican leaders are learning that policy and substance don’t stand a chance.
“People find it refreshing that we’re talking about this,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott told The Huffington Post about the anti-poverty agenda he and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) recently outlined. “But the question for me is how do we get more of our message out to more people? The news is being dominated by only negative topics and subjects.”
It’s a question Scott hasn’t quite answered. Trump’s inflammatory comments provide cable news networks with eyeballs, and internet news sites with clicks, but they have made it impossible for the policy proposals of members of Congress like Ryan and Scott to reach voters.
“When Americans hear the message of hope and opportunity, I find that they’re attracted to that message,” Scott said, when asked about his agenda, adding that his anti-poverty plan is hard to push when he and his colleagues are competing with Trump’s controversy du jour.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t sell as many papers or get ratings,” Scott said of his poverty agenda.
The rise of Trump “only underscore the importance of continuing the work that I’ve begun.” S.C. Sen. Tim Scott
Indeed, Trump is undoing much of the effort that Ryan and Scott have been making to reach out to minority voters.
When asked whether he thinks Trump’s candidacy has undermined their work, Scott said that Trump’s comments “only underscore the importance of continuing the work that I’ve begun.”
Scott and Ryan have been working on creating a kinder, gentler image of the Republican Party for some time. In January, they hosted a presidential forum on poverty in South Carolina, but Trump declined an invitation.
Scott later teamed up with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey to introduce the Investing in Opportunity Act. The legislation aims to help low-income Americans climb the economic ladder by offering investors a temporary deferral of capital gains taxes if they help improve high-poverty areas. Last week, Ryan traveled to Washington's Anacostia neighborhood to unveil a six-part policy report titled, “A Better Way.” The 35-page plan calls for increasing work requirements for welfare recipients, focusing on private savings accounts, and giving states a larger role in distributing benefits.
Scott said he tries to use every Trump question he receives as an opportunity to transition to the work that he and Ryan are doing to battle poverty.
“I spend less time trying to figure out what the impact Donald Trump has on my agenda and more time using this as a great chance to pivot,” Scott said.
But Ryan and Scott’s efforts to shift the conversation away from Trump’s daily political firestorms have been unsuccessful. Last week, Scott found himself having to weigh in on Trump’s comments about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over fraud lawsuits against Trump University.
“His comments were certainly racially toxic,” Scott told reporters. “I don't know the intent of his heart, so I'm not going to call them racist comments, but certainly they are racially toxic.”
Ryan faced a similar situation last week, when he went to Southeast Washington to unveil his poverty agenda. After Ryan’s press conference, he was immediately asked about Trump’s racist comments, not his poverty plan. Ryan admitted to reporters that Trump’s racist and controversial comments “undercut” the efforts they’re making.
After Ryan wrapped up his answer to the questions about Trump, reporters followed up with even more questions about, you guessed it, Donald Trump.
Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.