Try and try again: GOP tests out myriad attacks on Biden

Republicans are testing out a myriad of attacks against President Biden, trying to turn public opinion against a popular president among key sectors of the electorate in hopes of boosting their chances in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.

Republicans have blamed Biden’s economic agenda for rising inflation and criticized him over the flow of migrants at the southern border. They have also recycled attacks from the 2020 election, raising questions about Biden’s mental fitness and trying to tie him to the “defund the police” movement and the left wing of the Democratic party.

The approach has prompted criticism among some who say Republicans need to adopt a more unified message. Republicans also fret that some of the criticisms of Biden aren’t believable and say the party needs to focus on more credible attack lines.

“The most effective political attacks are those that have the virtue of being true because they are therefore credible. Attacks that are far-fetched generally fall flat, as they are not believable,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran GOP pollster.

“Talking about how President Biden is a far-left wing socialist simply lacks credibility because he never has been and never will be, more than likely, a far leftwing socialist. He is a center left Democrat who has never been a member of the far leftwing of his party,” he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, say the attacks aren’t working. Biden’s approval ratings have remained steadily positive and he has delivered a highly-rated coronavirus response, allowing him to usher the country back to normal and the economy back to health.

“They’re trying everything they can think of. It’s absolutely a scattershot approach and nothing is sticking,” said Josh Schwerin, a Democratic strategist. “Voters are seeing the job that Biden is doing and they’re seeing the benefits.”

One longtime GOP operative argued that it is too early to make the assertion that Biden is “Mr. Teflon,” noting that high gas prices 30 days before Election Day 2022 would spell trouble for Democrats. At the same time, the operative conceded that it is difficult to attack Biden, who recently announced a bipartisan infrastructure deal, as a member of the left wing of his party.

“We have to figure out a way to attack the policies,” the operative said. “I just think we’re probing. I think it’s early.”

Polls show that immigration and rising crime rates represent potential vulnerabilities for Democrats going into the midterms, which are still more than a year away.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday found that 59 percent of Americans believe that crime is an extremely or very serious problem in the United States. Thirty-eight percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the issue of crime, while 48 percent disapprove.

“I think crime is obviously a big and growing issue in America and if these trends continue, it will be the issue that defines the 2022 midterms,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who served as communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 campaign. “The Democrats are in charge, they will be held responsible for soaring crime if that’s the case.”

Republicans found it effective to tie Democrats to the “defund the police” narrative during the 2020 elections. But the attacks did not prove effective at the time against Biden, who made clear that he did not support taking money away from law enforcement.

“Criticism along the lines of massive deficit spending, out of control crime in cities and chaos at the border are all credible lines of attack,” said Ayres. “Trying to make the case he stands for something he’s not is a waste of time and energy.”

Biden recently unveiled a plan to address rising crime that involves using funds from his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill to help support law enforcement and curb crime. The White House has subsequently tried to make the case that Republicans are the ones who support defunding the police for not voting for the rescue package.

Republicans have also tried to drive home attacks on Biden and Vice President Harris over the surge in migrants at the southern border that occurred after they took office in January.

A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey released in June found that 64 percent of registered voters believe that Biden should issue “stricter policies to reduce the flow of people across the border.” Biden’s approval numbers on immigration specifically have been consistently underwater.

A group of House Republicans joined former President Trump for a trip to the border on Wednesday to excoriate the Biden administration’s policies, as they wrestle with whether to rally behind a central message on immigration ahead of the midterms.

Biden and liberals, Trump claimed, are “destroying our country.”

But Trump has also used his megaphone to continue to push false claims that he won the 2020 election, exacerbating divisions in the GOP and taking attention away from Biden. Some Republicans also blame his rhetoric for depressing turnout during the Georgia Senate runoffs in January, when two Democrats won to tip the Senate into Democratic control.

“His first instinct is to be a grievance candidate,” the GOP operative said. “If we can get him beyond that, I think he’s probably one of the most effective attack dogs we have right now.”

Overall, Biden’s favorability has been positive. A Reuters-Ipsos poll released Wednesday put it at 55 percent among U.S. adults.

“I think [Republicans are] missing a coherent message,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, a group that is billing itself as an “NRA for Families.” “It’s all over the place. They’re talking about big tech. They’re talking about inflation. They’re talking about China. They’re talking about Russia. They’re talking about stolen elections.”

Schilling argued that Republicans should focus on persuading families by tying Biden to inflation and digging in on culture wars like the debate over critical race theory.

Biden received a boost on Friday with the release of the June jobs report, which revealed the U.S. economy added 850,000 jobs last month and exceeded expectations. The latest report is likely to insulate Biden from some attacks from Republicans on his economic agenda.

Republicans have tried to blame Biden for the heightened gas prices, though Democrats counter that one of the major reasons behind the increase in prices is the fact that the economy is restarting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that “of course” the administration is concerned about the rise in prices and reiterated Biden’s opposition to a gas tax to pay for his infrastructure proposal.

“He felt that would fall on the backs of Americans who were returning to their workplaces, who were driving their kids to school,” Psaki said.

Democratic strategist Basil Smikle said that Biden’s best antidote to continuing GOP attacks over crime and other issues is to “stay the moderate course.”

“That’s why he got elected. That’s the best way to bring any moderates on the right to the cause,” Smikle said. “And don’t give in to the pressures that are coming from the left, no matter how difficult.”



Tags Border crisis Coronavirus Crime Critical race theory Donald Trump Immigration Jen Psaki Joe Biden Marco Rubio
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