Republicans are attacking Democrats by framing Biden’s ‘Neanderthal’ comment like one of Trump’s racist remarks

Biden neanderthal gop messaging
President Joe Biden. Samuel Corum/Getty Images
  • Republicans and conservative media have focused heavily on President Biden’s “Neanderthal” line.
  • Biden compared states like Texas lifting mask mandates to “Neanderthal thinking” on Wednesday.
  • GOP figures have used the comment to mock Democrats over political correctness.
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A throwaway line from President Joe Biden on Wednesday emerged as a major story in conservative media on Thursday, with Republicans using the “Neanderthal thinking” comment to mock Democrats.

Biden was commenting on states like Texas and Mississippi drastically rolling back their COVID-19 restrictions, with the Lone Star State abandoning its mask mandate in anticipation of being fully reopen.

“I hope everyone’s realized by now these masks make a difference,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything’s fine, take off your mask – forget it. It still matters.” 

Republican lawmakers and pundits quickly pounced on the comment, arguing that Biden was being dismissive of conservatives who want more businesses to reopen, and painting the remark as the latest in a long list of elitist put-downs from Democrats.

Numerous studies have found that mask-wearing significantly reduces the spread of the coronavirus, with the CDC most recently advising double mask-wearing for even more protection if a cloth mask does not fit securely.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, defended the extinct species and chided Biden for his use of the term during a Fox Business interview on Thursday.

“Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers. They’re protectors of their family. They are resilient. They’re resourceful. They tend to their own,” Blackburn said. “So, I think Joe Biden needs to rethink what he is saying.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted about Biden’s comment as though he had made a racist or sexist remark.

—Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 4, 2021

“He should apologize for his insensitive comments and seek training on unconscious bias,” the former presidential candidate tweeted. 

On Thursday afternoon, the Fox News homepage led with a banner headline comparing Biden’s remark to Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment from 2016.

—Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) March 4, 2021

Rubio’s sarcastic framing of Neanderthals as a protected group and Fox News’ coverage of the comment dovetail with the heavy focus of the party and conservative media on “cancel culture” in recent weeks.

Rubio’s tweet, for example, calls on Biden to “seek training on unconscious bias.” While no such thing exists for disparaging an extinct species, Rubio is implying that Biden should get a taste of the Democrats’ own medicine after four years of calling out Donald Trump and his allies for saying racist and offensive things.

Trump insulted a variety of Democratic and Republican governors personally during his term, which prompted Democrats on Thursday to call the GOP hypocritical for taking issue with the Biden quote. The White House press shop even attempted to clean up the fallout, with the press secretary, Jen Psaki, emphasizing that the president was not actually calling anyone a Neanderthal.

In a broader context, the Neanderthal controversy is just the latest example of how successful the GOP has been at getting mileage out of otherwise fleeting gaffes or one-liners. 

—Matthew Sheffield (@mattsheffield) March 4, 2021

By mounting an offensive against Biden that’s so far removed from actual policy, Republicans and right-wing media have gotten the White House to spend time discussing and even walking back offhand comments about something completely unrelated to the work they want to promote, like the $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus bill. In other words, the GOP’s trolling worked.