Joe Biden has proven an elusive target for Republicans. With the Cheney fight over, their focus is back on the president

WASHINGTON – Shortly after meeting at the White House on Wednesday, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy signaled a renewed effort with an aggressive fundraising text targeting his host, the president.

“I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and he’s STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people,” the text said.

McCarthy and other Republicans have said intraparty squabbles, including the drama surrounding Rep. Liz Cheney, distracted them from presenting a unified front against Biden and his big spending plans.

Now, with Cheney expelled from Republican congressional leadership, the GOP and its allies are renewing attacks on Biden on issues such as immigration, taxing the wealthy, foreign policy, and the ability of a 78-year-old man to handle the political world’s toughest jobs.

But a number of factors, analysts say, have stopped those Republican attempts so far – and could keep Republicans from landing a lasting punch.

Biden hosts ‘big four’ Congressional leaders at WH

President Joe Biden hosts the first formal gathering of the “big four” congressional leaders on Wednesday. Biden’s sit-down Oval Office meeting comes as the White House accelerates its efforts to reach a bipartisan infrastructure agreement. (May 12)

AP

More than three months in office, Biden enjoys approval ratings of more than 50%, and polling has shown support for his ambitious spending plans that include the already-approved $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and the proposed $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan.

More: ‘I don’t understand the Republicans’: Joe Biden says GOP in middle of ‘mini-revolution’ amid Cheney dustup

More: ‘Stop the Spending Spree’: Fiscal conservatives mobilize to block Biden’s jobs and families plans

The Republicans’ success or failure in tarnishing Biden and his team could determine whether they win back Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024. History is on their side: Midterm elections frequently see control of Congress change hands. 

Ex-President Donald Trump, deprived of Twitter and other social media but still viewed by many as the most powerful Republican voice in the country, has recently increased his output of written statements, many of them attacking his successor over a variety of issues.

Many voters have already made up their mind about Biden, however, and stepped-up Republican attacks may not resonate – especially if more people get back to work, inflation is checked, and the economy rebounds after the COVID pandemic.

Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said at this point most Americans “approve of the job President Biden is doing and believe that the country is on the right track.”

“It is difficult for the Republicans to raise a ruckus and rile the public,” she said, “when most are either satisfied or feeling optimistic about the future.”

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Washington. From…
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Washington. From left, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Vice President Kamala, Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y.
Evan Vucci, AP
Biden is an elusive target

Republicans have had little success demonizing Biden with independent voters because so many people feel they know him, analysts said.

For one thing, the current president has been a fixture in American politics for more than a half-century. A senator from Delaware for more than three decades, Biden participated in many high-profile hearings and congressional debates. He later served eight years as vice president to President Barack Obama.

After winning the Democratic nomination for president last year, Biden racked up more than 80 million votes to unseat Trump – despite the fact that Trump and his Republican allies lobbed constant allegations of malfeasance against Biden and his son, Hunter, as well as attacks on Biden’s fitness to hold office. 

Some of those attacks have continued into the Biden presidency, but to little avail.

Recent polling has Biden enjoying an approval rating routinely over 50%. An average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics gives Biden an average job approval rating of 54.2%.

The underlying data in those polls shows a common theme: Republicans tend not to like Biden and Democrats still support him strongly, including those who backed more liberal candidates like Bernie Sanders in last year’s primaries. 

Everyone else has a generally positive view of the president who casts himself as the product of a working class environment in Scranton, Pa., a practical politician willing to work with Republicans on legislation to help Americans.

“There’s nothing new (Republicans) can say that’s going to change anybody’s mind,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrive to speak to reporters outside the White House after a meeting with President Joe Biden, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrive to speak to reporters outside the White House…
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrive to speak to reporters outside the White House after a meeting with President Joe Biden, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci, AP
'Nobody is afraid of their grandfather'  

But many Republicans believe Americans will become increasingly dissatisfied with record levels of government spending and debt, an increasingly crowded U.S.-Mexican border, and new rules and regulations promulgated by the Democratic Congress and the Biden administration.

While pledging to work with the Biden administration on an infrastructure bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said he is “hopeful” that “we may be able to do some things on a bipartisan basis – but they got off to a pretty hard left-wing start.”

“We don’t intend to participate in turning America into a left-wing, kind of Bernie Sanders vision of what this country ought to be like,” McConnell told Fox News after the meeting between Biden and congressional leaders.

Conservative groups are also stepping up campaigns against Biden and his spending proposals.

The organization Americans For Prosperity is preparing ads for competitive House elections in states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia.Those states are also ones that Biden wrested from Trump in the 2020 election, providing him his margin of victory in the Electoral College.

Some Republican criticism plays off Biden’s age and his occasional mangled syntax. But that strategy has also been met with limited success. Some of the attacks mirror the ones Trump made in 2020 against “Sleepy Joe,” and they seemed to have little impact as well.

“Trump never found a salient way to brand Biden, and Republicans continue to struggle after the election,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant.

He added: “Conservatives’ main angle of criticism is Biden’s age. But nobody is afraid of their grandfather.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) speaks to members of the media after she was removed of her leadership role as Conference Chair, following a Republican House caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on on May 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. GOP members removed Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her leadership position after she became a target for former President Donald Trump and his followers in the House as she has continually expressed the need for the Republican Party to separate themselves from Trump over his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
No more distractions? Maybe, maybe not

Republicans said they have been distracted in making the case against Biden because of a lack of cohesion, including internal disagreements over what to do about Trump.

Some blamed Cheney, the now-former House Republican Conference chair who argued loudly that the party should move past Trump and stop echoing his lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Those false claims triggered the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, an incident Democrats will surely use against Republicans whe elections roll around.

More: ‘Just the Trump party:’ Liz Cheney’s demotion proves Trump still rules Republican politics, experts say

More: ‘I will not sit back’: In fiery speech, Rep. Liz Cheney calls Trump a ‘threat’

House Republicans voted Wednesday to demote Cheney from her role as third-ranking Republican. She responded that it will remain difficult for the GOP to make a case against Biden and his agenda if it continues to embrace Trump and his conspiracy theories.

“To be as effective as we can be to fight against those things, our party has to be based on truth,” Cheney told NBC News.

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who supported demoting Cheney, said voters are increasingly disenchanted with Biden and the Democrats. Scalise told Fox News he sees “a lot of really serious concern about the direction that the socialist Democrats are taking us,” and that “Biden has embraced that far-left Bernie Sanders’ agenda.”

“People don’t want this to become a socialist nation, yet you see how far they’re moving,” Scalise said.

As they seek to regain control of Congress, Republicans believe history is on their side. They had success in the congressional elections of 1994 and 2010, the first mid-terms for Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Both of those previous presidents were more polarizing than Biden, analysts said, and Republicans in those years made great use of specific hot-button issues: Democratic health care proposals.

The success of attacks on Biden may also depend on overarching factors, particularly the state of the economy, analysts said. A massive event could also shake politics, as 9/11 did in the run-up to the 2002 elections.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Republicans is they lack something Biden has: The megaphone of the White House to promote themselves and denigrate their opponents.

“It’s always difficult to generate a unifying message when you’re the party out of power,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres.

Published
9:30 am UTC May. 15, 2021

Updated
9:30 am UTC May. 15, 2021