FBI at Mar-a-Lago, Inflation Reduction Act are hot topics for congressional campaigns

·3 min read

From IRS agents to insulin pricing to Jeffrey Epstein, congressional campaigns have had a busy week discussing the recent passage of sweeping legislation on climate and prescription drugs, the ongoing fight over abortion rights, and the FBI's search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.

Welcome to today's installment of Red Words, Blue Words, USA TODAY's tracker for 2022 midterms rhetoric on Facebook and Twitter. As we've seen in previous weeks, the latest list of trending phrases shows campaign messaging can churn as quickly as the news cycle.

Mar-a-Lago search grips GOP campaigns

The criminal search warrant executed on Donald Trump's Florida residence Monday drove the three letters "FBI" almost to the top of trending phrases employed by Republican campaigns.

GOP congressional candidates immediately took to social media to call the move "aggressive," a "witch hunt," a "weaponization" of federal government, and a sign of "unbelievable corruption."

While some Republican campaigns struck a concerned tone calling for the Department of Justice and FBI to provide more details, many responded with outrage.

More: GOP slams FBI, Justice Department over search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago

Some cast suspicion on the search by focusing attention on Bruce Reinhart, the federal magistrate who Trump's attorney has said signed the search warrant. The Miami Herald in 2019 reported that Reinhart previously worked as an attorney for employees of Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who died in jail while facing federal sex trafficking charges.

Other Republicans suggested the Justice Department's time would be better spent going after Democrat Hillary Clinton, who came under scrutiny for her use of a private email server as U.S. Secretary of State, or Hunter Biden, the president's son who is facing a federal investigation into his international business dealings.

Sam Woolley, a professor at University of Texas at Austin who studies propaganda, said the messaging by GOP campaigns was an effort to change the subject from Trump's potential crimes, which he called "a classic propaganda technique of diversion and distraction.”

Such rhetoric is "an attempt to inject fear and anger and hate for the other side into the conversation," Woolley said, "rather than focusing on the real issues.”

Both parties talk Inflation Reduction Act

The week began with candidates from both parties posting heavily about the Inflation Reduction Act following Senate party-line approval Sunday.

Although "inflation reduction" was the stated goal, the Democrat-sponsored bill covered many other problems.

In addition to highlighting the bill's provisions on climate change, Democratic campaigns used specific terms like "insulin" to promote elements intended to reduce prescription drug costs.

Many Democrats talked up the Republican opposition. Republican senators managed to strip away a proposed $35 monthly cap on insulin co-pays for private insurers.

Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat running for reelection in California, tweeted: “Democrats are putting #PeopleOverPolitics by focusing on lower costs, better-paying jobs and safer communities. What are Republicans focused on? Removing the $35/month insulin cap from the Inflation Reduction Act.”

Republicans, meanwhile, used phrases like “IRS agents,” “border patrol agents” and “raise taxes” in critiquing provisions that would hike rates on large corporations and boost spending on tax enforcement.

Many GOP candidates called for beefing up border enforcement instead.

Virginia state senator Jennifer Kiggans, a Republican House candidate who won her June primary, wrote on Facebook: “With $80 billion going to hire 80,000 new IRS agents and investigators, get ready for an audit! All this while our military and border patrol agents are under-funded and ignored.”

Following weeks of fading discussion of abortion among Democratic campaigns, words on the topic were trending again after Kansas voters rejected a ballot measure that would have rolled back abortion rights. Democratic campaigns used the vote as a sign the majority of America was with them on abortion.

Sen. Alex Padilla, Democrat of California running for reelection this year, tweeted: "Republicans across the country taking away the fundamental right to reproductive freedom is outrageous and unacceptable for a vast majority of Americans. But as voters in Kansas showed us this past week, we have power to fight back."

Contributing: Melissa Ellin, Boston University Justice Media Computational Journalism co-Lab.

USA TODAY is tracking Facebook and Twitter posts of more than 1,500 congressional campaigns using data from KnowWho, which keeps lists of elected officials. Some campaigns feeds are no longer active. Rising phrases are based on top percentage point gains in share of all phrases posted by candidates in the period ending Aug. 9 versus a week earlier. In some cases, duplicate phrasing and terms coming from one account are removed from the analysis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FBI at Trump's door, Inflation Reduction Act, IRS: campaign talk 2022