WASHINGTON – Shortly after meeting at the White House on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sent an aggressive fundraising text signaling a renewed effort to target 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 said intraparty squabbles, including the drama surrounding Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., distracted them from presenting a unified front against Biden and his big spending plans.
Now that Cheney’s been 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.
A number of factors, analysts said, have foiled those Republican attempts – and could keep Republicans from landing a lasting punch.
After more than three months in office, Biden enjoys approval ratings of more than 50%, and polling shows support for his ambitious spending plans that include $1.9 trillion approved for COVID-19 relief and $2.3 trillion proposed for jobs and infrastructure.
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, increased his output of written statements, many of them attacking his successor over a variety of issues.
Stepped-up Republican attacks may not resonate, analysts said, especially if more people get back to work, inflation is checked, and the economy rebounds after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said 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.”
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.
The 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 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 Trump and his Republican allies lobbing 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.
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 support him strongly, including those who backed more liberal candidates such as Bernie Sanders in last year’s primaries.
Americans have a generally positive view of the president who casts himself as the product of a working-class environment in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 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.
‘Nobody is afraid of their grandfather’
Many Republicans expect Americans will become 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.
Pledging to work with the Biden administration on an infrastructure bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., 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 stepping up campaigns against Biden and his spending proposals.
The organization Americans For Prosperity is preparing ads for competitive House elections in Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia. Biden wrested those states 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 occasionally mangled syntax, but that strategy has met limited success. Some of the attacks mirror the ones Trump made in 2020 against “Sleepy Joe.”
“Trump never found a salient way to brand Biden, and Republicans continue to struggle after the election,” Republican strategist Alex Conant said.
“Conservatives’ main angle of criticism is Biden’s age,” he said, “but nobody is afraid of their grandfather.”
No more distractions? Maybe, maybe not
Republicans said they were distracted in making the case against Biden by 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 that the party should move past Trump and stop echoing his lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him. She said those claims triggered the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, an incident Democrats would surely use against Republicans when elections roll around.
House Republicans voted Wednesday to demote Cheney from her role as third-ranking Republican. She responded that the GOP would struggle 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 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 “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.
Republicans had success taking control of Congress in the elections of 1994 and 2010, the first midterms for Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Both of those presidents were more polarizing than Biden, analysts said, and Republicans made great use of hot-button issues, such as Democratic health care proposals.
The success of attacks on Biden may 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 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,” GOP pollster Whit Ayres said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Target Joe Biden: Donald Trump, GOP find it hard to hurt his image