Three years ago, candidate Joe Biden boldly predicted that once he defeated Donald Trump, Republicans would have an “epiphany,” free themselves from the shackles of the far-right and work cooperatively with Democrats toward consensus.
“The thing that will fundamentally change with Donald Trump out of the White House — not a joke — is you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” Biden said May 14, 2019 on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, adding that Republicans were too “intimidated” by Trump to compromise.
This week, President Biden rolled out a new message labeling the GOP a “MAGA Party” — tying Republicans to the ex-president’s controversial brand of politics with an election-year attack designed to activate disillusioned Democrats and persuade independents that the GOP is too radical to hold power.
“MAGA Republicans — ‘make America great again’ Republicans,” he said Wednesday at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, carrying the same message in speeches throughout the week. “They’re the most extreme party. And that’s what the Republican Party is now… They run the show, the MAGA Republicans.”
Biden’s rhetoric is an attempt to sharpen his indictment of Republicans ahead of a midterm election where his party could lose control of the House and Senate. It comes as Trump maintains a firm grip on the GOP, wielding his influence with conservative voters to purge his critics and using his endorsements in the 2022 primaries to exact revenge on those he considers disloyal.
Some Republicans say Biden is grasping for a political strategy.
“The president’s desperate,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “His poll numbers, particularly among independents, are on a journey to the center of the earth. And I think they’re trying to change the narrative.”
But Biden’s allies say that the pessimism of the president, a 45-year veteran of Washington who built his political identity on cross-party cooperation and finding common ground, is more a searing indictment of the opposition.
Biden’s agenda to tackle major economic problems — from rising costs of child care and college tuition and prescription drugs, to climate change and health care access — faces unanimous Republican opposition and has been stymied in the 50-50 Senate. His voting rights push ran headlong into a unified GOP filibuster.
“Over his 36 years as a senator, few senators were more committed to bipartisanship, to building real personal relationships, to working across the aisle and former Sen. Biden,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Biden’s friend and Senate successor. “For him to say ‘this is a new Republican Party that I am struggling to find common ground with’ is really quite a statement.”
‘MAGA Republicans… Take the fight to them’
A Biden adviser, who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s thinking, emphasized to NBC News he isn’t giving up on working with Republicans where possible, citing the infrastructure law and U.S.-China competition package as examples.
The adviser said Biden’s new message is based on his view that most of the party has taken a sharp turn to the hard right, evoking Sen. Rick Scott’s agenda as well as party elites who are waging culture wars against Disney, seeking to ban books and attempting to outlaw abortion. The adviser added that Democrats will argue the GOP is the party of Scott, R-Fla., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.