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Feb 8, 2024, 6:16am EST
politics

As Republicans stumble, Democrats look to make 2024 a referendum on ‘chaos’

REUTERS/Mike Segar
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The News

President Biden has long pitched himself as the steady alternative to Donald Trump’s nonstop chaos. A spate of self-induced Republican drama is giving that argument some new heft right as the general election comes into view.

This week alone, Republicans upended a major border deal negotiated by their own members; failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas thanks to a combination of internal dissent and vote-counting mishaps; and a MAGA-led effort to oust RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has reached a fever pitch. Trump’s multi-front legal battles also continued to make daily headlines, including a resounding court loss for his argument that presidents should enjoy substantial legal immunity after leaving office.

“It’s not just a chaotic week,” Kate Berner, who held communications roles in Biden’s 2020 campaign and in the White House, told Semafor. “It’s chaotic because Donald Trump and congressional Republicans and the MAGA Republican Party can’t govern or deliver results for the American people.”

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We’ve already seen Democrats begin to tie this week’s events into that core argument: “House Democrats will continue to choose common sense solutions to solving problems on behalf of hardworking American families, House Republicans continue to choose chaos,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters on Wednesday.

Biden’s reelection campaign is betting that once again, they’ll be able to convince voters that any failure or drama on the side of Republicans is because of the former president — and this week in particular seems to be a turning point in making that argument.

“We’ve had a good week because Republicans have shot themselves in the foot,” a Biden campaign aide told Semafor. “There’s a lot for us to work with, and we’re going to be able to highlight Joe Biden focusing on issues that matter for voters while Republicans are not.”

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There are echoes of 2020, when Biden accused Trump of “rooting for chaos” by stoking racial tensions amid protests and riots in order to capitalize politically. Biden is already pledging to campaign on a similar argument after Trump helped scuttle the bipartisan border bill, arguing that the former president is trying to make conditions worse for Americans in order to reap a personal benefit. It doesn’t hurt that some Republicans have outright said they feared a deal would benefit Biden’s election prospects.

“The voters are going to know that just at the moment we’re going to secure the border and fund these other programs, Trump and the MAGA Republicans said ‘no’ because they’re afraid of Donald Trump,” Biden said.

The chaos focus is also one that Nikki Haley, Trump’s only remaining main opponent in the primary race, has begun honing. And the Biden campaign seems more than happy that she’s picking up the mantle: On Wednesday, the Biden campaign promoted multiple Haley comments on the topic on X. In one, she posted that “a vote for Trump is a vote for more chaos,” citing some of the drama that unfolded that week at the behest of the former president.

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Shelby’s view

Typically, failures in Congress get blamed on whoever is in office, regardless of who is actually at fault, and Biden is running for reelection under a different light than 2020. Biden is betting on a bank-shot argument this time that offloads responsibility to his opponent, who as a court ruling put it this week, is now “citizen Trump” and has no legal authority. It’s a risky bet, especially if voters interpret it as passing the buck.

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Room for Disagreement

Trump is not an ordinary candidate and he has his own poll numbers to worry about. Voters have strong opinions about him, they know his record, and even as recent surveys show him competitive or leading Biden in head-to-head matchups, they also find voters conflicted based on his personal traits and legal troubles. For Biden, the task may be as simple as reminding them why they soured on him ahead of the 2020 race rather than anything more elaborate.

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The View From the Trump Campaign

Donald Trump’s campaign is arguing that Americans are feeling the negative results of the last four years under Biden, and that those feelings will inevitably come back to Biden’s leadership.

“Under their watch, the border is out of control,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said. “Under their watch, inflation is sky high. Under their watch, prices of everyday goods have skyrocketed. Under their watch, America is getting into all these foreign conflicts. There’s no way for them to gaslight voters into thinking that they’ve done a good job. It’s clear today that they haven’t. President Trump is going to run on his record, and Democrats and Joe Biden are going to have to run on their own record. As we’ve seen the last four years, their record has been shitty at best.”

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Notable

The overwhelming assumption in this week’s punditry is that Joe Biden has been handed a gift this week by Republicans. But there is also skepticism about his ability to capitalize given his limitations so far as a political communicator. Politico summed it up, noting that “while Democrats privately agreed that they’d been gifted a political opening, not everyone was confident in the capacity to exploit it.”

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