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A Republican challenge: Biden hasn't attained 'boogeyman status'

At CPAC, Biden wasn't a target. It's a dynamic that raises important questions about race and gender. It's also likely to have electoral considerations.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks to the media in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 23, 2021.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Under normal circumstances, an organized Republican effort would be underway to smear President Joe Biden in every way possible. It's the standard GOP playbook: target the new Democratic president, try to make him unpopular, exploit the demonization for fundraising and activism, and start making Democrats nervous about siding with the White House.

The trouble is, Biden just isn't an especially compelling villain. The Washington Post reported over the weekend from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):

Displays of anti-Biden sentiment were fairly rare, as the new president had not attained the boogeyman status of former president Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who galvanized the right. "I can't give the Biden stuff away," said David Solomon, a "MAGA" merchandise seller whose post-election shirt designs included Biden with a Hitler-style mustache and the message "Not My Dictator."

The New York Times raised a related observation, noting that many of the Republicans who spoke at CPAC "said strikingly little about President Biden."

It's a political dynamic that raises important questions about race and gender. It's also likely to have electoral considerations.

In 2010, for example, Republicans weren't just heavily invested in trying to make President Barack Obama unpopular, they desperately tried to leverage those efforts against congressional Democrats. Attacking the then-president was the foundation of the GOP's national strategy.

But at least for now, the party isn't even trying to target Biden in similar ways. At CPAC, the sitting U.S. president was largely an afterthought.

One of the more memorable lines of analysis from the 2020 race came from Michael Steel, a former leading aide to Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner and Jeb Bush, who made an interesting observation last summer. "People disparage Joe Biden.... But no one hates Joe Biden," Steel said.

And since no one hates Biden, Republicans were never altogether sure what to do with his public standing during last year's race. First they tried to smear him as corrupt, but few took it seriously. Then they tried to characterize him as a stand-in for more controversial progressive figures, but as Biden's 7-million-vote victory helped prove, that didn't work, either.

Now, much of the party seems content to focus attention away from the Oval Office altogether, far more preoccupied with Biden's predecessor than Biden himself.