Joe Biden proves an elusive target for Republicans. After Cheney fight, their focus is back on the president – USA TODAY

Posted: May 20, 2021 at 4:40 am

Correction: This article has been updated to correct which states Joe Biden won in 2020 that Donald Trump won in 2016.

WASHINGTONShortly after meeting at the White House on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sent an aggressive fundraising text signaling a renewed effort to target his host, the president.

"I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and hes STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people," the text said.

McCarthy and other Republicans said intraparty squabbles, including the drama surrounding Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.,distracted them from presenting a unified front against Biden and his big spending plans.

Now that Cheney's been expelled from Republican congressional leadership, the GOP and its allies are renewing attacks on Biden on issues such as immigration, taxing the wealthy, foreign policyand the ability of a 78-year-old man to handle the political world's toughest jobs.

A number of factors, analysts said, have foiled those Republican attempts and could keep Republicans from landing a lasting punch.

Biden hosts 'big four' Congressional leaders at WH

President Joe Biden hosts the first formal gathering of the "big four" congressional leaders on Wednesday. Biden's sit-down Oval Office meeting comes as the White House accelerates its efforts to reach a bipartisan infrastructure agreement. (May 12)

AP

After more than three months in office, Biden enjoys approval ratings of more than 50%, and polling showssupport for his ambitious spending plans that include $1.9 trillion approved for COVID-19 relief and $2.3 trillion proposed for jobs and infrastructure.

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The Republicans' success or failure in tarnishing Biden and his team could determine whether they win back Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024. History is on their side: Midterm electionsfrequently see control of Congress change hands.

Ex-President Donald Trump, deprived of Twitter and other social mediabut still viewed by many as the most powerful Republican voice in the country, increased his outputof written statements, many of them attacking his successor over a variety of issues.

Stepped-up Republican attacks may not resonate, analysts said,especially if more people get back to work, inflation is checked, and the economy rebounds after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said most Americans "approve of the job President Biden is doing and believe that the country is on the right track."

"It is difficult for the Republicans to raise a ruckus and rile the public," she said, "when most are either satisfied or feeling optimistic about the future.

Republicans have had little success demonizing Biden with independent voters because so many people feel they know him, analysts said.

The president has been a fixture in American politics for more than a half-century. A senator from Delaware for more than three decades, Biden participated in many high-profile hearings and congressional debates. He served eight years as vice president to President Barack Obama.

After winning the Democratic nomination for president last year, Bidenracked up more than 80 million votes to unseat Trump despite Trump and his Republican allies lobbing constant allegations of malfeasance against Biden and his sonHunter, as well as attacks on Biden's fitness to hold office.

Some of those attacks have continued into the Biden presidencybutto little avail.

An average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics gives Biden an average job approval rating of 54.2%.

The underlying data in those polls shows a common theme: Republicans tend not to like Biden, and Democrats support him strongly, including those who backed more liberal candidates such as Bernie Sanders in last year's primaries.

Americans have a generally positive view of the president who casts himself as the product of a working-class environment in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a practical politician willing to work with Republicans on legislation to help Americans.

"There's nothing new (Republicans) can say that's going to change anybody's mind," saidPatrickMurray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., head opposition to President Joe Biden's big spending plans.Evan Vucci, AP

Many Republicans expect Americans will become dissatisfied with record levels of government spending and debt, an increasingly crowded U.S.-Mexican borderand new rules and regulations promulgated by the Democratic Congress and the Biden administration.

Pledging to work with the Biden administration on an infrastructure bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he is "hopeful" that "we may be able to do some things on a bipartisan basis but they got off to a pretty hard left-wing start."

"We don't intend to participate in turning America into a left-wing,kind of Bernie Sanders vision of what this country ought to be like," McConnell told Fox News after the meeting between Biden and congressional leaders.

Conservative groups are stepping up campaigns against Biden and his spending proposals.

The organization Americans For Prosperity is preparing ads for competitive House elections in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia. Biden wrested those states from Trump in the 2020 election, providing him his margin of victory in the Electoral College.

Some Republican criticism plays off Biden's age and his occasionally mangled syntax, but that strategy has met limited success. Some of the attacks mirror the ones Trump made in 2020 against "Sleepy Joe."

"Trump never found a salient way to brand Biden, and Republicans continue to struggle after the election," Republican strategist Alex Conant said.

"Conservatives main angle of criticism is Bidens age," he said, "but nobody is afraid of their grandfather."

Republicans said they were distracted in making the case against Biden by a lack of cohesion, including internal disagreements over what to do about Trump.

Some blamed Cheney, the now-former House Republican Conference chair who argued that the party should move past Trump and stop echoing his lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him. She said those claims triggered the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, an incident Democrats would surely use against Republicans when elections roll around.

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House Republicans voted Wednesday to demote Cheney from her role as third-ranking Republican. She responded that the GOP would struggle against Biden and his agenda if it continues to embrace Trump and his conspiracy theories.

"To be as effective as we can be to fight against those things, our party has to be based on truth," Cheney told NBC News.

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who supported demoting Cheney, said voters are disenchanted with Biden and the Democrats. Scalise told Fox News he sees "a lot of really serious concern about the direction that the socialist Democrats are taking us," and "Biden has embraced that far-left Bernie Sandersagenda."

"People don't want this to become a socialist nation, yet you see how far theyre moving," Scalise said.

Republicans had success taking control of Congress in the elections of 1994 and 2010, the first midterms for Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and BarackObama.

Both of those presidents were more polarizing than Biden, analysts said, and Republicans made great use of hot-button issues, such asDemocratic health care proposals.

The success of attacks on Biden may depend on overarching factors, particularly the state of the economy, analysts said. A massive event could also shake politics, as 9/11 did in the run-up to the 2002 elections.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Republicans is they lack the megaphone of the White House to promote themselves and denigratetheir opponents.

"It's always difficult to generate a unifying message when you're the party out of power," GOP pollster Whit Ayres said.

Published9:30 am UTC May. 15, 2021Updated9:01 pm UTC May. 18, 2021

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Joe Biden proves an elusive target for Republicans. After Cheney fight, their focus is back on the president - USA TODAY

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