The Impossibility Of Demonizing Joe Biden

[ Posted Monday, May 17th, 2021 – 17:22 UTC ]

The more I see of President Joe Biden, the more I am reminded of Ronald Reagan. Not in substance, mind you (their policies could hardly be more opposed), but rather in style. Joe Biden is just likeable, no matter what you think of his agenda. He's beyond avuncular, he's downright grandfatherly. Just like Reagan was. Where Reagan had: "There you go again," Biden has instead: "C'mon, man." Both express exactly the same (and extremely rare) political quality -- the ability to defuse a story completely, right before reframing it in a way that most average non-political Americans would agree with (or at least relate to), even if it drives the pundits bonkers. You could call this inherent skill the ability to project being a "commonsense politician," I suppose.

Biden, of course, is nowhere near as charismatic as Reagan. Reagan was quicker with a joke than Biden, and quicker to give amusing faux backhanded compliments to his political opponents. But when confronted by a tough question, Reagan could slide away from it so easily (and sound so reasonable doing so) that he became known as the "Teflon president" -- nothing ever stuck to him. Biden, so far at least, seems to be exhibiting the same ability (albeit in a different way -- the two men's styles are merely similar in this respect, not identical in any way). Nothing bad -- no matter how bad -- ever stuck to Reagan. And even though it has only been four months, nothing so far has stuck to Biden, either.

It is, of course, far too early to say whether Biden will be able to live up to this standard for his whole term in office. All sorts of things could go wrong, and Biden could be blamed for any of them. But so far he seems to be doing an admirable job of avoiding such a fate. When Biden was nominated by Democratic voters, many of them supported him precisely because he seemed like the safest choice -- non-threatening, moderate, and therefore able to convince independent voters to give him a chance. He has stayed true to this in his presidency to date, as the word "boring" continues to routinely be used to describe his administration. America wanted (some might say desperately needed) a truly boring president after four years of the histrionics of Donald Trump. And so far, we've gotten exactly what we voted for.

Consider the following report, a sort of advance scouting report for the 2022 midterms:

When the National Republican Senatorial Committee sought to attack four vulnerable Senate Democrats in a series of new ads this spring, President Joe Biden was nowhere to be found. Instead, the NRSC juxtaposed photographs of the senators -- Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada -- next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It's a phenomenon that's becoming increasingly pronounced as the outline of the 2022 midterm election comes into focus. Midterms are typically a referendum on the party in power, so the standard opposition-party playbook is to make every down-ballot race about the sitting president. But Biden's elusiveness as a target is forcing Republicans to rethink the traditional strategy.

Interviews with more than 25 GOP strategists and party officials depict a president whose avuncular style and genial bearing make him a less-than-ideal foil. He doesn't induce anger or rage, and at the moment, his White House is relatively drama-free.

In response, Republicans are preparing to break with time-honored custom and cast the president less as the central character in the midterm elections than as an accessory to the broader excesses of the left.

"Biden is not a good bad guy," said Ed Rogers, the veteran Republican lobbyist and strategist. "Obama was a haughty professor … The Uncle Joe life story that he has -- the tragedy, the losses, the obvious empathy the man has, I think that's all legit. So, it's hard to demonize him."

Those last quotes are pretty extraordinary for a political strategist to admit: "not a good bad guy," and: "it's hard to demonize him." Those are admissions of defeat, from a political party that has made demonization of their opponents their go-to tactic over the past three or four decades. Democrats nominate a war hero? Swiftboat him. Democrats elect a Black man president? Spread the rumor he wasn't born in this country, and fan the flames for all they're worth. But there just isn't anything like that with Biden, because people can easily just look at him and see he's not some fire-breathing dragon -- instead, he's the type of guy that you'd meet at a church picnic or a neighborhood block party. Maybe a little dated in his jokes and references, but obviously good-hearted and affable. It's tough to demonize that, which is why Republicans aren't even trying.

If events had turned out differently and Bernie Sanders had won not just the Democratic nomination but also the general election, it would have been incredibly easy for Republicans to demonize him. They would have done so nonstop during the campaign, and they'd have just kept right on doing so after President Bernie had been sworn in. But now the GOP is reduced to using Sanders and people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as their far-left boogeymen. Biden is just not seen that way by most of the public, so it'd be an impossible sell.

Which professional Republican consultants are already admitting. Here's a sampling from that article:

"Because [Biden] is so boring, he's not as scandalous," said John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country.

. . .

"Biden gives a fireside chat, and the fire goes out," said former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who served as National Republican Congressional Committee chair. "I mean, he does not evoke the strong emotion that Trump did."

They've tried several tactics which have already fallen pretty flat. "Biden is senile" or "Biden is just a puppet, the radical left is pulling his strings" have both been attempted, but Biden's stolid presence and calm and knowledgeable demeanor defused both these attacks fairly quickly. The GOP is in the midst of trying a new line: "Everything is chaos under Biden!" But that's pretty laughable, since most people can still remember the utter and unmitigated chaos Trump caused on a daily basis. It's also fairly risible since everyone can look around for themselves and see the exact opposite of chaos -- life returning to normal in a growing number of ways.

President Biden hasn't had anything truly chaotic on his watch yet stick to him (although the developing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians could begin to qualify very soon). Instead Biden projects having an adult be in charge once again -- an adult who ignores the sniping from his enemies and concentrates instead on getting the job done. So we'll see how much traction "Biden equals chaos" gains, in the next few weeks. My guess would be: "not that much."

But if the Republicans never do manage to get any sort of traction on turning the voting public sour on Biden, it will be notable. When you are the "Out" party, you typically run your campaign not just against the "Ins" generically -- you train most of your focus on their most powerful politician. Biden, as sitting president, would be the obvious target. But already Republicans are realizing how difficult (if not impossible) this task has gotten, with Joe Biden in charge.

One veteran Republican strategist involved in down-ticket campaigns said the GOP will run in 2022 against "the Democratic Party as a whole."

"It's less about vilifying one person," the strategist said.

That minimization of Biden would mark a significant break from tradition. A president's approval rating has been closely related in recent elections to how well his party does in the midterms. In the last midterm election, Democrats tied Republicans running for everything from U.S. Senate to school board races to Trump, seizing on his unpopularity to reorder the balance of power in Washington.

. . .

The lack of engagement with the president is already evident in early ads -- where messages that will define the 2022 campaign are already being formulated. In Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor, ran a primary ad highlighting the Democratic Party's "really out-there socialist ideas," from "defund the police" to "paroling cop-killers" and "canceling Dr. Seuss," but without mentioning Biden.

The White House is, quite obviously, delighted with this success. In fact, they can barely contain their glee, as they lay out their own campaign theme:

John Anzalone, a Biden adviser and campaign pollster, said, "The reality is that Democrats are competing on an economic message like they never have before, and part of it is that they have real plans, and part of it is that Republicans aren't even showing up. They have nothing to offer the American people right now."

This has the benefit of being both true and fairly obvious, so it sure sounds like a winner to me.

Many have tried to draw parallels between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan. Trump certainly was coated in a thick layer of Teflon -- twice impeached, and still nothing has really stuck to him at all. This may not last forever, but as the ouster of Liz Cheney plainly shows, it is still Trump's party to do with as he wishes. And as long as nothing sticks to him, all the Republican political sheep will continue to stick with him. But this is really using the Teflon moniker to describe legal consequences more than political consequences -- Reagan was, after all, re-elected in a landslide.

As for Biden having Regan's Teflon quality (which was a far more positive thing than it was with Trump), it is still way too early to tell if he can keep this up. If the economy suddenly takes a turn for the worse, if the COVID-19 pandemic makes a comeback, or if any number of other issues go south, then the GOP might start rethinking their campaign and begin running anti-Biden ads. If they think that demonizing him has a prayer of actually working, then you can bet your bottom dollar they will try it.

But so far Joe Biden (although any Republican would be loathe to admit it) is just as impossible to attack personally and demonize as Ronald Reagan was. How can you demonize avuncular (or grandfatherly, even)? How can you successfully paint as a wide-eyed radical a guy who looks and sounds to just about everyone about as down-to-Earth as can be imagined? Boredom is Biden's superpower, to put it another way. It is just what America needed after Captain Chaos despoiled the American political landscape for the past four years. And as Biden's approval ratings continue to show, most people just don't hate him, and probably never will. And if Republican strategists are admitting that this far out from the next election, then they've already realized this powerful fact: Joe Biden is pretty much impossible to demonize (so far, at least).

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


22 Comments on “The Impossibility Of Demonizing Joe Biden”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Biden's son has an incriminating laptop! How's that?

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    As I read your thoughts on how the Republicans 'demonized' previous Democratic presidents and leaders, but are failing to do so with Biden, I realized that you don't mean demonize to the general population. They tried to demonize Obama but I don't believe it worked with his supporters, who managed to re-elect him much to the Republicans' surprise. I agree that Hillary Clinton was more demonizable within her own party, but she still won a popular majority in her run for the White House. Kerry - Swift-boated Kerry - really? The Swift-boat story sunk him (ha ha) in 2004 with the Democratic base? Maybe - and maybe not, given his other political flaws.
    So the Republicans in your report, as far as I can see, are bemoaning their inability to demonize (degrade, tear down, etc.) Biden with their own voters, not with Americans in general. And the remarkable thing is not that Democrats are resisting any attempts to tear down Uncle Joe, but that Joe has quite a lot of support in the so-called independent zone of voters, and even some so-so Republicans of the less-than-fully-Trumpy kind.

    Oh, and I never liked Reagan, with his fake humor and vacuous mind and corrupt administration and ... well, you get the idea. I was desperately embarrassed that he was our president, having no idea of the worse that was yet to come. So, did the Democratic strategists 'demonize' him to me - or did I draw my own conclusions just by watching the clown?

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i'd wager you're a bit above average intelligence. reagan's shtick didn't work on you because you were able to observe facts, analyze data and meaningfully compare them to what the man was saying. that's a lot for the average voter's mind to do. furthermore, the average american voter in 1984 was significantly whiter and more racist than the average voter today - which, given donald trump's 2020 vote totals, is really saying something.

    or to cite george carlin (aside to liz: it's only a ten second clip, so go nuts)


  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hey, Joshua ... on a completely unrelated note, can musicians in your country earn a living off of royalties and copyright anymore?

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Biden’s stutter is his secret weapon. It forces him to think before he speaks. He edits his thoughts in real time. It doesn’t always work - his gaffes are famous - but all politicians make gaffes. Biden gaffes get more notice because he talks less. Winston Churchill stuttered and is generally considered a great orator. Churchill also let loose some rather shocking race related gaffes that still tarnish his reputation.

  7. [7] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Stig [7]

    I'm not well versed on Winny in general, and have probably never heard of his "shocking race related" gaffes, but I'm betting the "tarnish on his reputation" represents 50 yrs worth of hyper sensitivity PC 'amokism'.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Biden gaffes get more notice because he talks less.

    HA! OMG Okay, now THAT made me laugh out loud ... crack up, really ... hehehehehehehehehehehehehe ...

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I'm going to post my most favurite by a country mile op-ed in the New York Times ... just as soon as I find a link ... you Do. Not. Want. To. Miss. It!

    And, I mean that sincerely, I'm not trying to be facetious here!

  10. [10] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    The best that can be said about Churchill regarding race is that he was a product of a racist, anti-semitic time and class, but some of his contemporaries viewed him as unusually so. During WWII he stockpiled Australian wheat in India, not for Bengali Indians who were undergoing a famine, not to ship immediately to war-torn Europe, but to store, while India (still a British possession) was compelled to ship its rice to England.

    As a young man, he defended British concentration camps for civilians in South Africa--the first concentration camps, by the way, and even if they weren't extermination camps as Auschwitz was, thousands died in them. He was in charge of a brutal regime in Kenya, wanting to displace the local population with white settlers in the more fertile areas, and meeting nationalists with prison camps, beatings and torture. He has some responsibility for the post-war situation in the Middle East, although goodness knows there were plenty of fingers in that pie and plenty of blame to share.

    He didn't do all that well by working-class Britains, either. As a Home Secretary, he sent in troops to break up strikes on more than one occasion.

    He didn't make 'gaffes' about race, he expressed his rather vile views about white supremacy and the rest of the world on record on more than one occasion. He was also, much of his adult life, in a position to act on his views.

  11. [11] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    Big lie or big delusion? You want to blame Biden for quite a bit but the vast majority of that is guilt by association rather than individual direct action.

    opioids: Got anything? Bills Biden put forth? Anything at all? I see he has moved to put a stop to Trump's last minute move expand what opioids physicians can prescribe...

    Your COVID-19 accusations are just mind bogglingly stupid. First, he was not in office during the vast majority of it. He practically begged everyone to wear a mask and follow the CDC recommendations any chance he got while campaigning. Finally he has rolled out the vaccines much faster than anyone thought possible and that is starting with nothing as Trump did not have a plan to pass on.

    The Wars seem like a blanket, lets blame everyone for everything cop out. Got anything Biden specific that went against what everyone else was doing at the time?

    I apply the same process of observing facts, analyzing data and meaningfully applying that not only to what a politician says but to what a politician does.

    And yet can suspiciously not ever use these alleged facts or analyzed data to back up any point you trying to make. Interesting that...

    Lets look at this through Occam's Razor: The entire American political system is against you and you are the only or one of the few to see it, or you are just cuckoo bananas. The later is certainly the simpler explanation...

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    This one is especially for you!

    In Praise of Joe Biden from a rare breed of journalist who actually understands who Joe Biden is and what he is all about.

    I have come across one other such animal who works for the Boston Globe and once told me several years ago that "the media storyline on Biden is asinine", a quote I have often used, without attribution since the communication was private. That storyline may be changing now ...

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    interesting article. here's the snippet of 2006 thinking that stood out for me:

    the kind and decent Lugar, the joyful warrior McCain, the unprepossessing Graham, the courageous Lieberman and the graceful Sununu and Obama

    i wonder how many of those assessments stood the test of time...

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I liked Senator Lugar. I hated the way Senator Graham behaved in committee hearings back around then - that assessment held pretty good.

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:
  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    the conversation (and the main blog post) was about comparing joe biden and ronald reagan. do you have anything to say about them that isn't a pivot to your own personal tangents? if not, i suggest pie.


    yes, i think some musicians can make money from royalties if their work goes mainstream and is used on official channels of communication. it's way out of my expertise, but i'd wager it's tougher now than it was a decade or two ago.


  17. [17] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    So you got nothing what so ever to defend your accusations? You believe without tangible evidence and therefore it is true? How is that not cuckoo bananas?

  18. [18] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Those deaths and suffering are direct results of big money controlling our political process and Biden has been taking individual actions to perpetuate and take advantage of the problem.

    What individual actions has Biden taken that has ended up in COVID-19 deaths? Do you have something real that is not part of your weird catchall delusion? Or is this a personal version of "double secret probation"?

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I was chatting with some Canadian musicians about songs on YouTube and royalties etc. Royalties, in this country at least, are dwindling and Canada has sold its artists out for some of the lowest streaming rates in the world, I was told.

    I also learned that "copyright" has nearly become fantasy. And, any official body, government or otherwise, that grants ownership of a song is simply registering and recognizing it, not defending it. So, if there is a breach of copyright by another party then it is up to the owner/songwriter alone to launch legal action. I guess someone must think that most artists have all kinds of money around to be able to launch legal actions on their own, right left and center!

    I know that YouTube, for example, has wrongly credited copyright on many, many songs on their platform.

    American writers, I'm told, do much better and have received a few raises and had actions taken on their behalf over the last few years.

    The music industry is indeed a vicious game.

    April Wine - Live

  20. [20] 
    Kick wrote:

    Death Harris

    Guilt by association is your brother commits a crime and you are guilty because he is your brother.

    Oh, I see your problem... you're simply ignorant.

    Those deaths and suffering are direct results of big money controlling our political process and Biden has been taking individual actions to perpetuate and take advantage of the problem.

    Nope. ALL the deaths are directly your fault due to the fact that you suck at political activism. If you weren't so terrible bad at your responsibility, ALL of those people would still be alive. Murderer.

    Four years of Trump is not enough for you to realize the system is broken?

    You are living proof that people are gullible and ignorant enough to be suckered by a con artist and cast a vote for him. That is democracy in action.

    That is a moosepoop dodge to demand ridiculous standards of proof when it is readily available for you to find and is as obvious as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West.

    You do realize the sun doesn't really rise, right? You take dang near every commentary and pivot to your personal bullshit and monomania because it's you who sees what you want to see in every paragraph and then you who spews your repetitive "facts" that aren't really facts. Same shit, different day. :)

  21. [21] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I agree with most of your assessment of Churchill. By the standards of his class he was rather accepting of Jews. He

  22. [22] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Continuing 24....

    Churchill was cool under fire and a competent battalion commander in the First World War.On the other hand he engineered the Dardanelles Campaign which was a costly fiasco.He was not a good judge of military talent, notably Admiral Beatty who was incompetent and cost the Royal Navy a lot ships and sailors.

    As a kid, I was extremely fond of Churchill’s multi-volume history of WW2. Extremely well written, but as I learned later, largely inaccurate. Throughout his life Churchill thought big and out of the box. It often came back to bite him...and lots of people under his command.

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