The Republican Party hope to derail the Democratic Party by demonising US President Joe Biden, writes Lincoln Mitchell.
New York (Brussels Morning) There was a moment during the first presidential debate last year when then US President Donald Trump sought to attach current incumbent president Joe Biden to what some of the more left leaning ideas of his vanquished primary opponents. Trump, in the manic style that we saw in that debate, said to Biden “Your party doesn’t say it. Your party wants to go socialist medicine and socialist healthcare”. Biden’s response was “The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party”. At the time, that comment sounded a little odd. Republicans didn’t believe it and agreed with Trump’s response “And they’re going to dominate you, Joe. You know that”.
Many Democrats chafed at Biden’s response as well, because the party is a large coalition, not simply the views of one man even if he happens to be the nominee for president. Today, many of those same Democrats are hoping that voters who go to the polls in 18 months believe that Biden is indeed the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party is, naturally, bigger than simply Biden, but at the moment, with the 2022 midterm elections about 18 months away, the Republicans have to convince the American voters of that. As the Biden presidency settles in, it is increasingly evident that the President himself is a difficult man to demonise and portray as either a left-wing ideologue or somebody who is too old and infirm to hold the office. The GOP and their propaganda arms at Fox News and elsewhere have tried both these avenues, but thus far have experienced little success.
Most polls show that in the generic ballot for 2022, when voters are asked if they would vote for a Democrat or Republican for congress without being given any specific names, the Democrats have a lead of between one and seven points. According to research in advance of the 2018 midterm election, because of gerrymandering and voter suppression an outcome even on the high end of that range would likely lead to a Republican controlled House of Representatives beginning in 2023. This suggests that if the election is seen by voters as 435 separate House races between a Democrat and a Republican, the GOP will likely win a majority of seats.
If, on the other hand, the election is framed differently, as has occurred in several recent midterms, the Republican position may not be as strong. In the 21st century, midterm elections during a president’s first term have been, in part, referenda on the new president, but these elections are often presented by one or both sides as being between the new president and the leaders of the other party.
This is true despite the president not appearing on the ballot in midterm elections. The 2018 election was, for many voters, a proxy fight between Trump and then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Eight years earlier, the 2010 elections were similarly an electoral battle between then President Barack Obama and John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who ascended to the Speaker’s post following that election.
That framing would lead this election to become a contest between Biden and Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House Republican caucus. The Democrats, at least given how things stand now, would be very happy with that. McCarthy is not popular with the American people as he has become both one of the most visible faces of the Republican Party and an apologist for Trump and the 6 January insurrection.
McCarthy being relatively unpopular would not necessarily be enough to sink the GOP’s chances as Pelosi was not well liked by the American people when the 2018 midterms occurred. However, when Pelosi was the face of the Democrats in 2018, Trump, who was always relatively unpopular, was the most visible Republican.
The problem the GOP faces is not so much that McCarthy is not well liked, but that none of their attacks on Biden seem to be particularly effective, so a proxy fight between Biden and McCarthy would be a win for the Democrats. This is why efforts to demonise Biden, as they did Obama and Pelosi before him, are an essential part of the GOP strategy. If that Republican endeavor fails, then it is possible that the Democrats can overcome voter suppression and gerrymandering and retain control of the House. Those chances will increase if current trends in vaccinations, reopening and COVID-19 cases continue which would, in turn, further bolster Biden’s popularity.
Biden’s popularity thus far has its basis in several things. First, following the manic, self-absorbed, vengeful and incompetent presidency of Trump, Americans may just be happy to have a calmer and more decent presence in the White House. Second, the Biden’s policies around Covid relief and vaccinations appear to be genuinely popular. Third, the Republicans are still struggling to find a plausible line of attack. It is apparent that almost nobody outside the GOP base believes Biden is either a bumbling old man or a dangerous socialist, the two attacks the GOP has focused on the most.
Fourth and potentially most damaging for the Republicans, it may be that following the Trump presidency and particularly the insurrection on 6 January, the swing voters who will decide this election do not put much credence in what Republican politicians say about Biden or anything else. Unless the GOP changes that, then even gerrymandering and voter suppression may not save them.