The president has had to deal with a barrage of right-wing attacks, and Republicans may find that the formula is working in their favor.
Joe Biden appeared to be bad for business in the “Make America Great Again” world. In theory, the president of the United States, a white man with working-class roots and moderate policy positions, should have been a more elusive target for Donald Trump’s increasingly extreme support base than other prominent Democrats. But, after a year in office, it’s clear that Biden isn’t too dull to be a rightwing boogeyman after all.
Biden’s demonization as a Hitler, Stalin, or anti-White racist has no basis in reality. However, it appears to have stuck with many Republican voters as a result of relentless conservative media attacks, the president’s own gaffes, and seething frustration during a seemingly never-ending pandemic.
Initially, Biden elicited less hostility than Barack Obama, the first Black president who faced conspiracy theories about his birthplace and the rise of the populist Tea Party movement. Biden was never subjected to the misogyny that Hillary Clinton was.
His record on policy was also non-incendiary. When Trump supporters gathered under the banner “America vs. socialism” at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the most despised figures were Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal Latina from New York.
However, since taking office, Biden has given Sanders a prominent role in shaping his policy agenda. The president’s unexpected ambition to spend trillions of dollars on coronavirus relief, the social safety net, and the climate crisis has fed a Republican narrative that he is a puppet of the radical left.
And, while Biden’s identity as a White man has rendered other “isms” irrelevant, he cannot avoid ageism. At 79, he is the oldest American president in history, and his every blunders are used to cast doubt on his mental fitness. Tucker Carlson told the same network’s viewers in August, “Perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned is that Joe Biden is not capable of running the country. Joe Biden is senile.”
But there is no greater symbol of anti-Biden sentiment than the phrase “Let’s go Brandon,” which originated in October at a Nascar race in Alabama. Brandon Brown, a 28-year-old driver, was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter after winning his first Xfinity Series race.
On a Southwest flight from Houston to Albuquerque, the pilot ended his greeting over the PA system with the phrase, which surprised some passengers. When Biden answered a few phone calls to the Norad Santa Tracker on Christmas Eve, Jared Schmeck, a Trump supporter from Oregon, said, “Merry Christmas and let’s go, Brandon!”
In a nod to Trump supporters, Republican Senator Ted Cruz posed with a “Let’s Go, Brandon” sign during the World Series. McConnell’s press secretary retweeted a photo of the phrase on a Virginia construction sign. South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan wore a “Let’s Go, Brandon” face mask to the U.S. Capitol. Jim Lamon, an Arizona Senate candidate, used the slogan in a television campaign ad.
Critics argue that “owning the libs,” or goading, provoking, and outraging their opponents, has become the defining principle of a Republican party that lacks a coherent ideology of its own. McConnell reportedly told donors last month that he would not be presenting a legislative agenda for the November midterm elections because he was content to simply hammer Democrats. However, with Biden’s approval rating in the low 40s and his Build Back Better agenda stalled in Congress, the Republican formula may be working.
Barbs and slurs aimed at a Democratic president are nothing new. Before Obama, there was Bill Clinton, who drew his fair share of vitriol, hostility, and fanciful conspiracy theories. In today’s hyper-polarized Washington, exacerbated by social media, the incumbent can expect to be thrown everything but the kitchen sink.