It took some time, but the Democratic Party establishment finally recognized what had become apparent to most of the political universe many months ago — If the congressional midterm elections became a referendum on the Biden administration, defeat and the loss of both houses of Congress was inevitable.
Their solution? Go hard negative. Mount an attack on former president Donald Trump, change the narrative from a referendum to a choice, focus on the potential for a government controlled by radical fringe elements and portray it as an existential threat to democracy.
Biden bought into the strategy, convinced that Trump was too inviting a target to pass up and Republican congressional candidates would be vulnerable if tied to him.
The new approach debuted when Biden characterized the Republican Party as “semi fascists,” a term that, for most people, conjures up images of Hitler and the Nazi party.
The backlash from enraged Republicans was immediate and fierce, but even some Democrats expressed dismay over his use of the politically loaded phrase. Others remained silent.
Biden followed his “semi fascist” characterization with a speech in Philadelphia, warning a dark and dystopian future awaited the nation if Republicans aligned with Trump returned to power.
Within a matter of days, Biden realized he’d gone too far and pivoted to damage control mode, offering a gentler take:
“I don’t consider any Trump supporter to be a threat to the country. Not every Republican, not even a majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to the country.”
His remarks, he insisted, were directed at those who cast doubts on election outcomes, fail to condemn violence, spread conspiracy theories and attack law enforcement.
The damage had been done, though, and the first impression — “semi fascists” — has been firmly implanted in the narrative.
The abrupt change in strategic direction appears to represent a belief that concentrating on Biden’s recent string of legislative wins has been cast aside temporarily along with his posture as uniter in chief, in favor of overheated partisan rhetoric. It’s the fist-pounding on the podium speeches that brings rally crowds to their feet.
Despite the temptation to strike back, cooler heads may have prevailed in the speechwriting process by pointing out Trump received 74 million votes in 2020 and Biden’s Electoral College victory of 306-232 was nearly identical to Trump’s 304-227 margin in defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.
It should have come as no surprise that offense was taken at the president intimating that 74 million Americans who voted for his opponent only two years before share a fascist philosophy.
Biden’s unpopularity has been a drag on Democrats’ election prospects. His double-digit negative standing on inflation, crime, immigration, and cost of living increases portended a potential blowout, a loss of upwards of 30 seats in the House and a handful in the Senate — enough to give Republicans the majority.
While Biden has gained a few points in public approval, 70 percent of Americans still believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Trump has provided Biden and the Democrats with a wealth of campaign material. For instance, the former president’s insistence he be reinstated to the presidency or a special election be conducted is sheer madness.
His passivity in the face of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol inflicted serious damage along with the recent revelations that he’d carried cartons of classified documents from the White House and stored them haphazardly at his Florida estate, possibly in violation of Federal law.
His endorsement has been bestowed on Republican candidates who share his never proven allegations that massive electoral fraud cheated him of re-election and who believe in imposing severe restrictions on abortion rights and relaxed restrictions on firearms possession.
In some two months, Americans will decide which party will control Congress. In a larger sense, they will also decide whether the Democrats’ gamble on their warnings of losing democracy and its freedoms will pay off, overcoming persistent economic and social issues worries.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.