Biden has earned high marks for handling the pandemic as he approaches 100 days in office, but Republicans may look to capitalize on problems like the border.
Under President Joe Biden, Republicans spent the past few months campaigning against “cancel culture” and locking horns with corporate America.
GOP legislators have prioritised controversial measures in state legislatures to tighten voting access, crack down on demonstrations, further limit abortion access, and ban school sports for transgender athletes.
But in many of the Republican Party’s fights during Biden’s early days in office, there’s one guy the GOP has largely ignored: Biden himself.
“It’s not really a unified front against him,” a Republican Senate assistant told NBC News, adding that Republicans need to better relate the GOP voter base’s cultural war problems to the president. “Sometimes he’s lost in the shuffle.”
Historical patterns and the new House and Senate composition offer the GOP an opportunity to win seats and regain one or both Congress chambers in the midterms. Although Republicans have seen success indirectly countering Biden on one major issue—his handling of the influx of migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, on the U.S. border with Mexico—some in the party have pointed out that Democratic Congressional leadership and progressives might remain a larger, and perhaps more successful, goal.
“I think many of our messages would concentrate on Chuck and Nancy versus Joe,” said a senior GOP assistant, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “And we’re just fine fighting.”
There are a number of reasons why the GOP hasn’t centered too much on Biden so far, republicans and strategists said, but a big one reflects the continuation of a 2020 campaign trail dynamic. Former President Donald Trump and his supporters unleashed a barrage of conflicting attacks but eventually found it difficult to identify the voters’ long-time politician.
“I think the Republican message was contradictory,” the Senate aide said. “And it was the same during the campaign, even with Trump. Not knowing exactly what to name him or what the best route of attack is because it’s going between, ‘Oh, is he a socialist or is he too long a Dem establishment?’ “
Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said “it’s hard to make him a frightening American public figure.”
“That’s what Republicans in the past relied on to drive mid-term voter strength,” Curbelo said.
For example, by the early days of former President Barack Obama’s first term, the conservative tea party movement in opposition to his presidency — and the economic stimulus package he pushed from the outset — had gathered momentum ahead of the 2010 midterms that saw Republicans flip the House decisively. The racist birther lie was also on its way to being a profoundly conservative belief.
“It was as if my very presence in the White House had caused a deep-seated fear, a feeling that the normal order had been broken,” Obama wrote in last year’s memoir, “A Promised Land.”
So far, there has been no grassroots rebellion against the president’s agenda.
Another piece of the puzzle is that Biden, unlike Trump, refrained from including himself in regular news cycles—as he did during the campaign. In early March, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, posted a tweet that exposed the Republicans’ difficulty in messaging against Biden.
“Three words describe Biden’s first weeks: dull but radical,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, in both parties, Biden’s top policy pursuits have enjoyed broad popularity so far. A large number of GOP voters in polls supported the Covid-19 stimulus, introduced without GOP support. Biden’s infrastructure initiative still enjoys strong support.
In both cases, Congress Republicans protested that shipments included “liberal wish list” goods with inflated price tags to finance those goals. With Democrats acting alone on Biden’s largest legislative achievement to date, Republicans will dent Biden’s perceptions of voters as moderate.
“If Biden passes more of his platform, and it will certainly be more polarising, his personal popularity will naturally sink,” said Matt Gorman, former communications director for the National Congressional Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, managed to keep the party focused on opposing Biden and others. In early GOP House and Senate campaign advertisements, however, Biden’s name appears to win just a cursory mention—or none at all.
“They’re working out who’ll be their villains and boogeymen,” said Liam Donovan, a lobbyist, and former Republican operative, “because Biden won’t be especially fruitful.”
Simultaneously, Republicans also struggle with the repercussions of Trump’s defeat and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A former president bent on revenge and insisting on playing an active role in the party has led to an increasing power struggle between him and the Republican congressional leaders responsible for winning back the House and the Senate, raising fears that there is not enough emphasis on Biden, NBC News said.
Biden has enjoyed consistent approval ratings throughout his first 100 days. His aggregate approval ranged from 53% to 55%, while his disapproval rate peaked at approximately 40%.
Biden’s highest marks for treating the Covid-19 pandemic. A new poll by Monmouth University showed that 62 percent of U.S. adults approved his work there, compared to only 31 percent who disapproved. Similar findings were seen in a recent U.S. adult Quinnipiac survey, which showed that 64% approved his pandemic handling while only 29% disapproved.
Republicans know Biden’s getting a huge boost by leading the nation over a massive pandemic hurdle, and claim that returning to normal means voters will have other top-of-the-mind problems.
“Because of Covid’s developing nation, he has a longer honeymoon,” said a second Republican Senate staffer. “But once things are routine, people will start concentrating more on other political issues.”
Pointing to national vaccinations, the senior GOP congressional assistant said they believed Trump would have had similar success, but Biden “was president when many of these vaccines occurred, so he’ll take credit for that.”
“And so would Republicans,” said this guy. “That’s what it’s.”
Republicans were most influential in influencing public opinion on the Biden administration’s border strategy. The Quinnipiac poll showed that only 29% of Americans approved his treatment of asylum seekers’ uptick. Speaking to Politico, Trump advisor Jason Miller vowed Biden’s border management would “be a big issue… in midterms.”
“The Biden administration’s only clean shot was the border crisis,” Curbelo said.
But more GOP attention was concentrated elsewhere.
State legislators did most to push the Republican agenda. These initiatives focus on voting restrictions following Trump’s falsehoods about the accuracy and fairness of last fall’s election. Additionally, there have been proposals to restrict important race theory instruction, increase criminal punishment for those arrested at demonstrations, and prohibit transgender athletes from participating in girls and women’s sports. The Conservative Political Action Conference this winter was called “America Uncanceled.”
South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said Republicans’ issues—especially the cultural and immigration issues at the heart of Trump’s politics—will eventually take a toll on Biden with the ever-shrinking community of voters in the middle.
“This kind of stuff is like lead weight, and eventually, like gravity, it starts bringing you down from the middle people,” he explained.
According to Jeff Timmer, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who endorsed Biden last fall, Republicans have so far focused on a larger grievance policy agenda rather than anti-Biden messaging because there were signs last fall that this message—if not the party’s main messenger—resonated. Republicans made major House gains despite losing the presidency.
“The only way they can hope to inspire their electorate in 2022 would be the same kind of grievance, bracing ourselves against the barbarians at the gate who want to change our nation forever,” he said, adding that “they must continue this fear-mongering to give themselves a chance in 2022.”
“And by doing so, I’m not discounting their potential to do it because they defied gravity in 2020,” he said.
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