Republican senators launched perfunctory critiques against many of Biden’s appointees and first executive orders, while others have begun to focus on the influx of migrants at the border. But so far the GOP has made no sustained argument against the administration.
Instead of taking on Biden directly, Republicans and their conservative-media allies have retreated to the latest culture-war skirmishes, focusing as much on lambasting a “cancel culture” as they are on attacking actual administration policies.
McCarthy’s criticism of the House Covid relief bill, meanwhile, centered on the bill having too little money allocated for reopening schools. His and other House Republicans’ message tapped into a go-to GOP message against tight Covid restrictions but did not take on the entirety of the proposal.
“Cancel culture is what unites and excites the right at this point,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist. “And Biden has been fairly invisible to date.”
To the extent that Republicans focus on Biden at all, it’s to characterize the 78-year-old President — who, according to the latest CNN poll, has a 51% approval rating — as being dominated by his party’s progressive elements.
Pelosi and Schumer
“When people call my show they are more likely to complain about Pelosi and Schumer than Biden,” said Erick Erickson, a conservative radio talk-show host based in Atlanta.
Unlike his predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama, Biden has not become a lightning rod for the opposition party. He does not factor into Republican small-dollar fundraising appeals any more than other leaders in the Democratic Party like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, or former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“I really believe most conservatives think that Biden is the figurehead,” said Erickson. “And what is getting them worked up is all of the culture war stuff. The cancellations, transgender bathrooms, the border situation, the wokes in charge.”
Schumer and, in particular, Pelosi have long been prime bogeymen for Republicans. Both names have been effective in both fundraising and in attack ads during campaign season.
GOP leadership retreat
And as Republicans gear up for the 2022 midterms, that focus is unlikely to change. At a House GOP leadership retreat in Florida last week, pollsters made a presentation on the battleground districts identified by the National Republican Congressional Committee. According to one person who was in the room, the presentation identified that criticizing Pelosi and the House Democratic policy agenda remain a surefire motivator for Republican voters.
“The takeaway is that this socialist agenda that we successfully ran against in 2020 remains a salient issue with voters,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to share party strategy.
“Liberals’ first act in office is a $1.9 trillion travesty that does far more to fund the left’s socialist transformation of America than it does to deliver the essentials we need to put COVID-19 behind us,” said Dan Conston, president of the non-profit organization.
Focus on the border
So far, however, Republicans have been unable to capitalize on lines of criticism on the Covid law, in part because of its broad popularity.
“Covid relief doesn’t lend a very good target except that it’s too big and is being used as an opportunity to push extraneous progressive priorities,” said Donovan.
Trump took the opportunity to directly blame Biden for the surge at the border.
“Our border is now totally out of control thanks to the disastrous leadership of Joe Biden,” the former president said in a statement last week.
Other Republicans like Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas also blamed Biden for rolling back immigration enforcement. Hawley on Wednesday called on the Senate to call on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to testify about the administration’s policies.
And House Republicans from border states held a press conference in front of the Capitol Wednesday to take aim at Biden’s immigration policy.
“Our constituents are on the frontlines bearing the brunt of the lawlessness and self-inflicted crisis at the border created by the Biden administration,” said Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas.