GOP struggles to define Biden, turns to culture wars instead

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

President Joe Biden speaks with Mary Anna Ackley, Owner of Little Wild Things Farm, left, and Michael Siegel, Co-owner of W.S. Jenks & Son, right, during a visit at W.S. Jenks & Son hardware store, a small business that received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and the Democrats were on the brink of pushing through sprawling legislation with an eyepopping, $1.9 trillion price tag.

But many Republican politicians and conservative commentators had other priorities in recent days. A passionate defense of Dr. Seuss. Serious questions about the future of Mr. Potato Head. Intense scrutiny of Meghan Markle.

The conservatives' relentless focus on culture wars rather than the new president highlights both their strategy for regaining power in Washington and their challenge in doing so. Unlike previous Democratic leaders, Biden himself simply isn't proving to be an easy target or animating figure for the GOP base, prompting Republicans to turn to the kind of cultural issues the party has used to cast Democrats as elitist and out of touch with average Americans.

“There’s just not the antipathy to Biden like there was Obama. He just doesn’t drive conservative outrage,” said Alex Conant, a longtime GOP operative, who worked for the Republican National Committee in 2009 as they labored to undermine then-President Barack Obama.

“They never talk about Biden. It’s amazing,” Conant said of the conservative news media. “I think Fox covered Dr. Seuss more than Biden’s stimulus bill in the week leading up to the vote.”

The challenge is a continuation of the 2020 campaign, when then-President Trump struggled to land a consistent attack on Biden. The branding of Biden as “sleepy” never stuck in the same way as Trump's derision of Hillary Clinton as “crooked” in 2016. Other GOP efforts to define Biden as a radical or to attack his mental acuity also didn't resonate.

Merchandise stands outside Trump’s rallies featured buttons and shirts mocking Clinton and Obama, but few bashing Biden. Clinton, who remains reviled on the right, was featured far more prominently on stage at last month’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida than the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The GOP is focusing more on America's culture wars than on Biden, including a relatively new villain decried as "cancel culture.”