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Biden's 2022 problem: Even some liberals are starting to say 'Enough!'

Joe Biden won the presidential election last year mainly for two reasons. One, he promised to unify a deeply divided nation. And two, he wasn’t Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE

He’s still not Donald Trump, but one out of two may not be good enough, come 2022. On that first point, while President BidenJoe BidenBaltimore police chief calls for more 'boots on the ground' to handle crime wave Biden to deliver remarks at Sen. John Warner's funeral Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump MORE talks a good game about unifying the nation, it doesn’t look like he’s really trying. With more than a little justification, conservatives believe that he ran as a centrist but is governing as a progressive. That doesn’t do much to bring the two sides closer together.

But we’ll know more next year, when Congress is up for grabs in those midterm elections, which historically have been a referendum on a new president’s first two years in office. 

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According to the New York Times, Republicans have a battle plan for 2022 — and it’s to run on cultural issues. 

“Republicans’ attacks on critical race theory are in sync with the party’s broad strategy to run on culture-war issues in the 2022 midterm elections, rather than campaigning head-on against Mr. Biden’s economic agenda — which has proved popular with voters — as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic,” according to the Times. (Let’s leave aside just how “popular with voters” Biden’s economic agenda really is. Different polls have come to different conclusions on that.

Another Times culture war story ran under this sub-headline: “As Democrats prepare to run on an ambitious economic agenda, Republicans are working to caricature them as liberal extremists out of touch with voters’ values.”  

I can remember when opinions at the “newspaper of record” were assigned to the opinion page — not the front page. But note the language in the headline: Not only are Democrats running on an “ambitious” (not hyper-expensive) economic agenda, but Republicans are working to “caricature” liberals as extremists. “Caricature,” as in “to misrepresent.” This is what passes for objectivity and fair play at the Times these days.

Media bias aside, it’s not only conservatives who think Biden has moved too far to the left on cultural issues. Ruy Teixeira, a political scientist and co-editor of a newsletter called “The Liberal Patriot” recently wrote that, “The steady march of ‘anti-racist’ ideology’” into school curriculums “will generate a backlash among normie parents.”  

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“Normie,” in case you were wondering, refers to people attached to traditional norms. And conservative Republicans aren’t the only “normies” out there. A lot of independent swing voters and even moderate Democrats also fit that description.

In an interview, Teixeira took a swipe at Democratic leaders for not calling out critical race theory because of their fear, he said, that “it will bring down the wrath of the woker elements of the party.”

No serious American — woke or otherwise — objects to kids being taught about slavery, segregation and Jim Crow; all of that is part of our history. But a lot of Americans say that teaching schoolchildren that America is a fundamentally racist country, that racism is systemic and ingrained in our institutions, is going too far.  

Even some liberal parents at Manhattan’s upper crust Dalton school have had enough. In an anonymous letter they wrote that “Every class this year has had an obsessive focus on race and identity, ‘racist cop’ reenactments in science, ‘decentering whiteness’ in art class, learning about white supremacy and sexuality in health class.”

“Even for people who are sympathetic to that political viewpoint, the role of a school is not to indoctrinate politically,” the letter continued. “It’s to open the minds of children to the wonders of the world and learning. The Dalton we love, that has changed our lives, is nowhere to be found. And that is a huge loss.”

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When liberals cry “Enough!” then it’s time for Democratic politicians to pay attention — or face the consequences.

But as tempting as it may be for Republicans to run a culture-war campaign against Democrats, GOP analyst Karl RoveKarl Christian RoveThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden mission abroad: reward friends, constrain adversaries Biden's 2022 problem: Even some liberals are starting to say 'Enough!' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Citizens' Climate Lobby - Biden floats infrastructure, tax concessions to GOP MORE says the bigger, more important issue will be — as Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhite House pushes back on claims Biden doing too little on voting rights The Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them Boeing's top lobbyist leaves company MORE strategist James Carville so elegantly put it many years ago — “the economy, stupid.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Rove wrote that “Democrats may be counting on Republicans to emphasize ‘culture war’ issues rather than deliver a focused, principled attack on the president’s orgy of spending and tax increases. This isn’t to suggest issues like defunding the police, critical race theory and border security are unimportant. But in 2022, as in most years, the economy will likely be the real congressional battleground. The sooner Republicans recognize that, the better.”

History is on the side of Republicans. The party out of power usually picks up congressional seats in a new president’s first off-year election. Still, history is only a picture of the past, not a guarantee about the future.

And so, if Joe Biden continues to give the GOP culture-war ammunition, if he continues to propose multitrillion-dollar spending bills not only for infrastructure but also for all sorts of social welfare programs, next year may turn out to be a very good one for the GOP.

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.