Republicans are reveling in their hatred of Joe Biden. And GOP politicians have helped them get there.
At the beginning of Biden’s White House term, Republicans openly fretted about their inability to define the president as he enjoyed an extended honeymoon and the nation seemed to move out of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked in April how his party was doing at going after Biden, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) replied: “Poorly.”
“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job because he’s getting away with defining himself and rolling out this stuff that we’re borrowing every penny for it, and the public is buying it,” Braun said, before referencing the popular coronavirus relief package from last year.
“We’ve got to find ways to articulate and scuffle in a better way, and I don’t know that we’ve found that.”
Flash forward less than a year later, and times have changed dramatically.
Biden’s approval rating sunk into the low 40s in the last half of his first year in office as an ugly ending to the Afghanistan War and voter anger and fatigue over the coronavirus pandemic and inflation took a bite out of his popularity.
Biden’s numbers are not just down because of events, however.
Republicans and their allies in right-wing media have also done their best to weaken the president. The “Let’s go Brandon” chants launched at his expense highlight how Biden, who has been on the political map and had generally been seen as unthreatening to conservatives, has now joined former President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the list of Democrats that the GOP loves to hate.
Republicans asked about the change say the GOP has shifted perceptions about Biden’s public persona.
“I think that there’s a resentment towards Biden,” said Stuart Stevens, a prominent GOP consultant and former senior adviser to Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 2012 presidential campaign.
“A lot of what drives the Republican Party is fear, and they feel isolated,” he said. “They see Biden, who should be with them. He’s a race traitor. He’s a guy who has supported conservatives, he was for [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas. You were with us once and now you’ve gone over.”
Many on the right have homed in on the idea that the Biden administration is not functioning competently. Republicans who didn’t back Biden’s legislative priorities point to his inability to get his own party united over the Build Back Better social spending package.
Voters, too, see that as a problem. In the latest Reuters-Ipsos poll, 63 percent of Americans surveyed said the country is heading down the “wrong track.”
GOP operatives say if Biden is less liked by Republicans and voters in general, he’s to blame.
“Joe Biden has consistently overpromised and under delivered,” said Joe Gierut, communications director at America Rising PAC. “His campaign was about unity and ending the pandemic, while his administration has accomplished neither.”
During the 2020 campaign, Biden was seen as the strongest candidate to appeal to Republicans and independents who had fallen out with former President Trump.
Biden was a centrist experienced in political dealmaking who campaigned on a vow to return the country to normalcy. He said he would work to unify a divided nation.
Uniting the country has been a clear failure for Biden so far, though it’s possible no president could do so in a highly polarized era.
“Our continued political stratification and tribalization mean more voters strongly disapprove of an administration before it even starts,” said Doug Heye, a veteran Republican strategist who was critical of the Trump administration.
“Biden’s core promise was that he and his team of pros would be competent and not make the mistakes we could expect from Trump and his Addams Family hires,” Heye said. “But as we’ve seen starting with Afghanistan, his struggling to pass an agenda and no real answers on COVID, inflation, rising crime — voters question that promise.”
Democrats see a number of successes from Biden, including most recently a better-than-expected January jobs report they say underscores a strong economy.
The president also signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that received Republican support.
They argue Republicans are never going to be satisfied and that it’s advantageous for the GOP to run on a platform filled with outrage in a midterm year.
Chris Meagher, a White House spokesman, credited Biden and congressional Democrats with proposing ways to “lower prescription drug costs, lower energy costs in the country.”
“We created more jobs than in any one year in the history of the country,” Meagher said. “We passed a historic bipartisan infrastructure law that will provide every household with clean water, rebuild crumbling bridges, ensure everyone has access to high-speed internet. And congressional Republicans are standing in the way.
“They voted against the historic funding that enabled us to reopen schools and keep them open. They are rooting for inflation and don’t have a plan to address price increases and working families. They don’t have a plan to beat back the pandemic or to grow jobs,” he added. “The American people care about who is fighting for them and paying attention to who is fighting against them.”
Republicans “are really good and have always been really good at finding a couple of niche issues and spinning them into outrage,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist who served as a spokesman to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
They “took a lot of flak for four years, and Republicans look at it as ‘It’s time for us to give some of this back,’ ” he said. “ ‘We were castigated for four years, and now it’s Joe Biden’s turn.’ ”
Conservatives’ eagerness to define Biden as the nation’s most reviled Democrat comes with 2024 in the forefront, where a rematch between Biden and Trump remains a possibility.
Trump has already taken preliminary steps to launch a third presidential bid, holding rallies in several critical battlegrounds like Florida and Iowa and campaigning for down-ballot candidates that fit his nationalist ideology.
Many Republican voters also think, according to recent polls, that Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud led to Biden’s victory are valid. “It really goes to this fundamental battle of what it means to be an American. If you believe America is a true melting pot, that is not the America they want,” Stevens said.
“It is an inability to accept that the world is not as you see it.”