The GOP is failing to make a villain out of Biden and has run out of ideas – so now they’re getting desperate and turning on their own.

Mitch mcconnell kevin mccarthy
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy address reporters outside the White House after their Oval Office meeting with President Joe Biden on May 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Biden’s popularity has left Republicans in a state of chaos.
  • They’ve resorted to culture wars in an attempt to drum up relevancy, and are desperate enough to throw their own allies under the bus.
  • Expect a continuation of the shift to culture war battles from the right as they flounder about looking for a pitch to voters.
  • Eoin Higgins is a journalist based in New England.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Joe Biden is a popular president and Republicans are losing their minds.

Biden, a 78-year-old moderate Democrat, has a job approval rating hovering around 60% of Americans. He’s been buoyed by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a resurgent economy, and a sense – earned or not – from voters that the new president has a firmer hand on the tiller than his chaotic predecessor.

The result is a floundering GOP as the right-wing party tries to draw a contrast with a president who isn’t nearly as liberal as they try to make it seem. Lacking that contrast, Republicans are lost. The party is still in thrall to Trump and the bigoted worldview he championed, but that’s about it. This lack of a clear villain or policy ideas has made the right so desperate that they’re now ready and willing to throw almost anyone under the bus to hold onto the power they have.

Kayfabe

Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican who supports her party’s far-right wing on just about everything – including voter suppression laws that nearly delivered Trump the White House again – was a high-profile victim of the GOP’s new, enemy-seeking scramble. Until May 12, Cheney was the House Republican Conference chair, a position that put her high up in party leadership. She had influence and power, but refused to buy into the lie that Trump had actually won the 2020 election, and thus she was ousted. Her sin was simply loving state power too much to fully throw it all away in service of Trump’s ego after the election.

Cheney’s been making the most of it, opportunistically reframing herself as a tough-talking truth-teller who couldn’t stand by as democracy was torn to shreds. And the GOP has too, reassuring Trump, whose power in the party is still unequaled as he weighs another run in 2024, that anyone – no matter how conservative – who accepts the current administration as legitimate isn’t a real Republican.

Let them fight

Republicans aren’t just fighting each other. They’re also going after their own interests. Despite the GOP’s traditionally close relationship with big business, a right-wing nonprofit is targeting major US corporations over moving to the left on culture war issues. The group, Consumers’ Research, is aiming ads at the CEOs of large companies like American Airlines, Coca-Cola, and Nike, for a laundry list of complaints ranging from high executive compensation to questions about product safety to allegations that products are made using forced labor overseas.

In fairness, the right-wing activists at Consumers’ Research have a point. Corporations are only adopting the “woke” (that is, socially responsible) language and belief systems of social justice because they see a shift in public opinion. It has nothing to do with deep-seated ideological principles, and has everything to do with their bottom lines.

In a vacuum, such a campaign would be welcome. But Consumers’ Research obviously has an ulterior motive: putting whatever resources are necessary into attacking companies for “wokeness,” which in this case amounts to half-hearted feints at doing the right thing.

On the one hand, it’s tempting to take a “let them fight approach” and watch as two repellent institutions – American mega-corporations and right-wing think tanks – go to war over a largely meaningless term that’s acting as a stand-in for political correctness or any other white grievance politics. But the purpose of attacking these companies is to use them as a foil for a broader ideological mission.

Brave new world

With the country on the path to economic recovery and a semblance of normalcy after over a year of restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic under President Joe Biden’s leadership, the traditional right-wing in the country is grasping for anything they can use as a wedge issue to pry centrist white voters back to the fold.

And this latest kayfabe shows just how desperate the American conservative movement is right now. These battles are largely meaningless. They’re in service of setting off empty, staged rivalries aimed at drumming up attention to culture war battles rather than policy.

This isn’t the behavior of a party with ideas or a plan. It’s a sign that the right is flailing and doesn’t have a coherent response to the new administration. Republicans have no policies to offer to change anything in the country for the better – and we’ve seen this before, too.

It’s no coincidence that the right’s reaction to eight years of disaster under former President George W. Bush was to embrace racial hate of President Barack Obama, calling the moderate Democrat a secret Muslim and communist in order to feed the fires of rage their white base had and deflect from the manifest failures of the former president and the right-wing movement as a whole.

Today, we’re seeing the right deploying the same strategy. The reasoning is pretty simple: after the chaos and misrule of Trump, Americans are desperate for relief, as they were in the early Obama years after Bush. For Republicans, culture war is the only viable path forward. But where Obama’s race presented a convenient foil for right-wing grievances, Biden – an older, white Democrat with a long record of taking right-wing positions – doesn’t allow for that kind of conspiracy theory and necessitates a change in how the culture wars are waged.

Thus, Cheney – who voted with Trump’s policy preferences over 92% of the time and holds extreme positions on immigration, Muslims, and the market – is cast out of her leadership position for taking the conciliatory position that the election results should be respected. Complaints about “wokeness” and other vaguely defined conservative phrases like “cancel culture” and the misuse of the term “critical race theory” are all the rage for both the new and old right.