The White House is embracing a new messaging strategy of pinning midterm Republican hopefuls to former President Donald Trump and his “ultra-MAGA” agenda, hoping to brand the GOP as a band of extremists.
Fired up by the leaked Supreme Court document that could curtail abortion rights, President Joe Biden lashed out at the GOP during a speech about deficit reduction.
“Let me tell you about this ultra-MAGA agenda. It’s extreme — as most MAGA things are,” Biden said, adding that “this MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that’s existed in American history — in recent American history.”
Departing White House press secretary Jen Psaki elaborated that afternoon, saying Republicans are following the whims of calling out Mickey Mouse while opposing policies that will improve people’s lives.
Trump isn’t on the ballot this fall, she argued, but his agenda certainly is.
“We’ve seen extreme laws that target LGBTQ families, their kids across the country,” said Psaki. “And I think what [Biden is] saying is: We don’t know what they’re capable of given what they’ve already done to date.”
With Biden’s approval ratings stuck in the low 40s, much of his agenda stalled, and Democrats hoping to message their way out of a tricky midterm cycle, the strategy is to paint GOP candidates as radicals and place doubt in the minds of voters.
“Are these the faces that the party hoping to take control of Congress wants to present to the American public?” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, referring to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Madison Cawthorn (R-NC). “Are these the people you want to turn the car keys over to? The answer is no.”
Bannon praised the “ultra-MAGA” language and said Biden needs to be more aggressive about forcing Republicans and GOP policies into the spotlight as the election draws closer.
“Some of these people, like Cawthorn and [Greene], who are now presenting themselves as the face of the party — they come across as lunatics,” said Bannon.
While Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 presidential election, previous efforts to tie Republicans to the former president have had mixed results. Terry McAuliffe worked to portray Glenn Youngkin as a Trump acolyte during the Virginia governor’s race, only to fall short on Election Day.
Whether such a strategy works on candidates who are less mild mannered than Youngkin remains to be seen.
Biden’s approval rating stands at just 41.1% in the same average of polls, with 54% disapproving. Some polls have Biden’s job approval in the 30s. In an election likely to be seen as a referendum, those are not favorable conditions for down-ballot Democrats.
Thus, the president may emphasize not just what Democrats are doing for the country but also the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and laws being passed in Republican-controlled state legislatures. Biden said during a recent appearance that “this is not your father’s Republican Party. … This is the MAGA party.”
Samuel Abrams, a political professor at Sarah Lawrence College, thinks it’s too early to roll out such an aggressive message.
“A week is an eternity in politics,” said Abrams, who is also a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “We are many months away from the November elections.”
Messaging is not a strength of the Biden White House, Abrams argues, with a gaffe-prone president and a camera-shy vice president. Focusing on a former president two years after the election may reveal a White House lacking new ideas.
To counter the anti-MAGA message, Republicans will need to employ the opposite strategy, showcasing the wide range of ideas and candidates running this fall, he says.
“There’s an awful lot of diversity within the Republican Party,” Abrams said. “It’s frustrating when people try to label it as a monolithic group.”
But the fact that Biden is using the term “MAGA,” referencing the Trump campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again,” can itself be seen as a victory.
“In many respects, it shows the GOP already won the talking point,” said Abrams. “They’re using the GOP’s terms. They set the terms of engagement, and the White House is responding to it. It really is a sign of weakness.”