If the Republican Party wants to regain a foothold in either chamber of Congress next year—let alone reclaim the White House in 2024—it needs to build a case for why the Biden Administration’s policies don’t work. The problem? They’re having a hard time getting that message to stick. Meanwhile, they’re doing a bang-up job reminding Americans that the GOP remains out of touch with reality and fixated on halcyon days that ended in January.
There’s only one card left in the deck at this point, and it’s a player’s favorite: block everything President Biden wants to do, just like they did with President Obama.
Ever since he assumed office, Biden has consistently garnered high approval numbers. According to a June Gallup poll, 56 percent of Americans currently approve of the way he’s handling his role as President. Compare this with Trump, who left the White House with an approval rating of just 34 percent. Trump maintained an average 41 percent approval rating throughout his term, the lowest ever recorded, beating Harry Truman, who since 1953 held the record for the worst average presidential job approval rating (45.4 percent). Trump is also the only President on record who never passed a 50 percent approval threshold at any time.
Like it or not, Biden’s $4 trillion economic plan—which encompasses infrastructure, climate change, child care and the minimum wage—is popular. And while it remains to be seen what signature policy or action will define Biden’s presidency, he’s widely recognized—fairly or not—for overseeing our ongoing exit from the COVID-19 pandemic, with a May AP-NORC poll revealing that 71 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the crisis.
America’s image abroad has gotten a much-needed boost under Biden as well. According to a June Pew Research Center survey, 75 percent of respondents living in 12 countries expressed confidence in Biden, more than four times the 17 percent who said the same of Trump last year. Overall, 61 percent said they’re confident in Biden’s ability to do the right thing in the matter of international affairs.
The problem: Biden’s ambitions of a Congress that makes across-the-aisle deals on key policy issues just aren’t going to happen. Even the most popular legislative act of his presidency so far—the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package—barely made it to his desk. That’s because the GOP’s pushback against Biden’s popularity has manifested itself in a shopworn strategy that’s become old hat for the Party: obstruct, block, derail, filibuster. Ensure a Democrat-led Congress doesn’t get anything done and then, with the 2022 election looming, offer solutions to fix the gridlock they created.
Think of it as a one-trick elephant. In the early days of Obama’s presidency, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously said “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” So, it was nothing short of a déjà vu moment when McConnell said at a May press conference that “one-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”
Considering the bloodbath of the 2010 midterms, where Republicans won the House with the greatest shift in seats since 1948, GOP leaders presumably see this kind of partisan railroading as a clear path to victory. (Conservative voters see it as a winning strategy as well: According to a May Vox/Data for Progress survey, 50 percent of Republican voters said they’re in favor of congressional Republicans refusing to compromise with Biden.)
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Senate Republicans are using the same strategy to obstruct President Biden’s agenda that they used on Obama. They blocked the landmark voting rights bill (“For The People Act”). They stopped the formation of a bipartisan commission to probe the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Even Biden’s infrastructure plan, the one item for which both parties seem to find common ground, appears to be in jeopardy (to Republicans’ credit: Biden isn’t blameless in that fight). As a result, it’s hard to envision any other item in Biden’s plans—from climate change to gun control—overcoming a filibuster in the Senate, lest Democrats bypass Republican support through reconciliation if they want to get anything done.
Even the rhetoric is the same. During the Obama Administration, it was death panels and fears that government would take away Americans’ guns. This year, it’s critical race theory, the Green New Deal, mail-in voting and conspiracy theories like the big lie that the 2020 election was rigged, a claim that even former Trump Attorney General William Barr has referred to as “bullshit.”
To overstate the obvious: the prospect of bipartisanship seems unlikely anytime soon. Annoying as these obstacles are, it deserves to be said that the GOP isn’t offering much in the way of a competing narrative. The Republican Party remains hopelessly stuck in the past and under the spell of Trump, who despite being out of office for six months and costing the Party the White House and both chambers of Congress, remains its de facto leader. The GOP needs to tell a different story. It needs to ditch Trump and remind its constituents what it’s going to do tomorrow, not what it did yesterday. Anything less is a loser’s game.