Biden seeks to frame election as choice between Democrats and ‘MAGA’ GOP
President Biden is deploying sharper, more consistent attacks on Republicans as he seeks to contrast his agenda with the GOP’s plan for the economy and prove to voters that his administration is tackling sky-high inflation.
The effort is welcome news to many Democrats who have encouraged Biden to take a harder line on the GOP as their party faces steep odds in the November midterm elections.
“Biden needs to make sure every American knows that Republicans have a plan to raise taxes on your small business — and one of the guys responsible for electing more Republicans to Congress is the mastermind behind the plan,” said Democratic strategist Mike Morey, who served as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“Biden needs to be aggressive in telling every small landscaper, home bakery, Etsy-based business and home child care company that Republicans don’t think you pay enough in taxes. If they take control of Congress, they will raise your taxes,” he said.
Biden, who campaigned in 2020 as a unifying force in the country, has toughened his remarks in recent weeks.
Biden has assailed the Republican Party for embracing what he called an “ultra-MAGA agenda” — a reference to former President Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” tagline.
While Biden has previously criticized Republicans, it’s not a natural place for a president who typically gravitates toward more unifying, bipartisan rhetoric. And some Democrats are gleeful at the change in tack six months out from the midterms.
“Why the f— would we not do this every single day on repeat? Every day. All day. This is us and that’s them. This is exactly what moves voters, and we’ve failed to figure that out until now,” said one Democratic strategist.
On Tuesday, Biden is slated to deliver a speech about his plan “to fight inflation and lower costs for middle-class families,” according to a White House official, during which he will discuss the steps his administration has taken to address high prices and seek to draw contrast with an 11-point plan offered by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
The lengthy proposal released by Scott earlier this year calls for imposing federal income taxes on Americans who currently pay none and sunsetting all federal legislation after five years, presumably including programs like Social Security and Medicaid. Both components have provided fodder for Democrats.
“You can expect the president will talk about why that plan might make sense to people with memberships at Mar-a-Lago, but would be devastating for the middle class,” the White House official said.
Other Republican lawmakers have either distanced themselves from Scott’s proposal or declined to embrace it. At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not offered a policy agenda ahead of the midterms.
“Biden’s lies won’t pay the bills – Biden and his administration’s failed economic agenda are alone to blame for the skyrocketing prices and looming recession Americans are facing,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said in a statement. “Voters know that Republican-led states are leading in economic recovery and job creation, and will vote for Republicans and our proven agenda come November.”
Democrats view going after Scott’s proposal as fair game given the Florida Republican’s position atop the Senate GOP campaign arm. The White House has sought to paint it as representative of the entire party.
It’s part of a concerted effort by the White House to more forcefully draw a contrast with Republicans, who have been hammering Biden over everything from inflation to crime to the flow of migrants at the southern border. Biden is focused not only on Scott’s plan; he has also called out Republicans for assuming “extreme” positions on issues like abortion.
Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who is based in Florida and ran former President Obama’s campaign operation in the state in 2008, said Biden is beginning to frame the election as a choice.
“I do think that whether it’s the president or Democrats in general, we’ve got to do a better job of telling our own story and offering a choice,” Schale said. “Part of the choice is ‘Here’s what we bring’ and ‘Here’s what they bring.’ ”
“Elections are about competing visions,” and Republicans “would turn this around in a heartbeat if this was them,” Schale added. “It’s a solid place to contrast.”
Republicans say while it’s an obvious tactic for Democrats to take, it’s not an effective one.
“They need anything they can talk about that isn’t inflation, unemployment and the situation at the border, and they can’t do that on their own,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye. “Democrats don’t have a coherent plan. Their messaging on this has been horrible the whole time. You have to have a clear and consistent message and be aggressive in driving that.”
Inflation has proven perhaps the most potent political problem for Biden, whose poll numbers are stuck in the low 40s.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month found Biden’s approval rating edged up to 42 percent among U.S. adults polled. At the same time, only 38 percent said they approve of his handling of the economy, while 57 percent disapprove.
Jim Manley, a former top aide to the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said Biden’s rhetoric is likely meant to speak to “Trump-curious independents” as well as members of the traditional Democratic base.
“If you look at the polling, it’s been really disconcerting to see the independents move away from Democrats in recent months,” Manley said.
It’s unclear if Biden’s stepped-up rhetoric could complicate his push for bipartisan action on several administration priorities, including legislation to boost domestic semiconductor legislation and deliver billions in more assistance to Ukraine amid its war against Russia’s invasion.
“I think if it does, the Republicans are talking out of both sides of their mouths,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “They have been far more partisan towards Biden than Biden has been towards them.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s attempts to revive pieces of his signature Build Back Better proposal have yet to yield fruit. The White House has pointed to parts of the proposal, like those lowering child care costs, as a means of lessening the burden on families amid raging inflation.
“I would like to see something happen, and I’m skeptical at this point,” said Kessler, who has been a self-described optimist on the package getting done. “Someone needs to prove to me that this is going to happen.”
–Updated at 7:13 a.m.