Democrats: Biden must drop the word ‘rational’ when talking about Republicans
Democrats say President Biden needs to stop calling some Republicans “rational” as he did last month, and instead call out the GOP for holding up key policy issues including gun control.
They say Biden’s views on the goodwill of Republicans are antiquated and that it ultimately undermines their party’s strategy in an election year.
“Biden and Democratic leadership have a fundamentally different mentality about how to win,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “They think it’s about appealing to the “middle” and showing that we’re reasonable and can play nicely even with intemperate people.
“Maybe that’s how you win in a fair fight on the merits, but we haven’t had that game for a long, long time,” Setzer added. “Now, they need to show how insane the GOP is as compared to the majority of Americans who want, for example, ‘responsible gun ownership,’ who want to outright ban AR-15s. We’re the only rational ones left.”
Speaking to reporters last month about the ongoing gun control talks on Capitol Hill, Biden singled out Republicans, saying they could be helpful in the process.
“I consider McConnell a rational Republican. I mean, Cornyn is as well,” the president said of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), both of whom he served alongside in the upper chamber. “I think there’s a recognition on their part that things can’t continue like this.”
When he went on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” earlier this week, Biden paid yet another compliment to McConnell.
“I’ve always had a straight relationship with the majority, the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, he’s a guy that when he says something, he means it,” Biden told Kimmel. “I disagree with a lot of what he says, but he means it.”
But Democrats are taking issue with that bipartisan strategy.
“On the one hand, I get what he’s trying to do in that he doesn’t want to unnecessarily box Republicans in,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who served as a senior aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
“But the idea that he goes on Jimmy Kimmel and calls McConnell his good friend is infuriating and indicates once again that he doesn’t understand how much the Republican Party has changed since he left the Senate,” Manley added.
“I have no idea whether he believes it or not but Sen. McConnell is no one’s friend and the Republican Party has no interest in helping him to legislate.”
Manley said Biden should have learned his lesson from the Obama era, when Republicans sought to block the former president’s legislative priorities at every turn.
“What’s especially infuriating is as vice president, he had a front row seat to Senate Republicans trying to undermine Obama’s presidency,” Manley added. “It’s sheer madness.”
Another strategist agreed.
“It’s not that he wishes we could go back to a better time, or doesn’t like calling out Republicans by name versus trying to negotiate, it’s does he actually believe they’re trying to help him? Because then it’s a much larger strategic problem,” said one Democratic strategist.
“This is history repeating itself,” the strategist said. “Obama thought they could deal, this gave McConnell the power to intentionally delay and kill stuff knowing the blowback would be on Obama who promised to make the place work again.”
“When Obama finally realized that and whipped out his pen, his numbers shot back up again,” the strategist added.
Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated with Biden in recent months, as issues including record-high inflation and soaring gas prices continue to dominate the news cycle with little end in sight.
The Democrats worry that Biden has appeared flat-footed on the issues, including the recent shortage of baby formula, and have urged him to be more proactive.
Polls also indicate that Americans have lost patience with Biden.
An NPR/PBS/Marist College poll out on Thursday showed Biden with the lowest approval rating since the start of his administration at 38 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll which also came out this week revealed that Biden has a 33 percent approval rating.
But some Democrats say Biden needs all the options available to him, even if that means telegraphing his relationship with Republicans, an element that helped catapult him to the White House when he touted his history in the Senate and his long-standing friendships with those across the aisle during his presidential campaign.
“Everyone in the political ecosystem has a role and the president’s role is to keep options and pathways open,” said Joel Payne, the Democratic strategist. “By definition Mitch McConnell needs to be one of those pathways.”
“That does not mean that others cannot use sharper language or sharper descriptors for McConnell but the president needs to be able to maintain the flexibility to work with Republicans,” Payne said.
When he appeared on Kimmel’s show this week, Biden acknowledged that the Republican Party had changed in recent years.
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” he told the late-night host. “This is a MAGA party, a very different Republican Party and you find people who are worried, I believe, that if they vote for rational gun policy, they’re gonna be primaried and they’re going to lose in a hard-right Republican Party.”
But Democrats say that kind of dialogue isn’t enough.
“He needs to say, ‘This is who we are, and this is who they are,’ ” the strategist said. “And I mean completely spell out who they are.”