President Joe Biden has spent his first 100 days pushing massive spending bills, proposing higher taxes and enacting progressive policies. But unlike his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, a mass movement in opposition hasn’t materialized yet.
At this point in his presidency, Obama faced the Tea Party revolt. On April 15, 2009 ― Tax Day ― thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across the U.S. to demonstrate against high taxes and increased government spending following the Great Recession. In Washington, D.C., a crowd even forced a temporary shutdown of the White House after they hurled tea bags onto the executive mansion’s lawn.
Republicans insist the same type of backlash is coming for Biden if he continues down the path he’s on. But the party, still reeling from years of Donald Trump and a Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, faces a problem: some of Biden’s policies are very popular.
That’s particularly true of the coronavirus stimulus. Turns out, people are less displeased with spending when it puts dollars in their pockets, as Republican Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) acknowledged to HuffPost this week.
“Even my counties back in Indiana are happy, which is a very conservative area,” said Braun, a deficit hawk. “They’re asking, ‘How can I spend $15 million in a rural county?’ I think the spending part of it was smart politically because they put a sugar high out there and put a smoke screen to how radical some of the legislation may end up being.”
GOP senators think it’s only a matter of time before Biden faces another grassroots repudiation of big tax-and-spend Democratic policies, especially if Democratic lawmakers pass his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. The huge injection of money on things like roads and bridges, child care, community college and middle-class tax credits would be offset with increased taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans.
“This embrace of an extreme agenda will accelerate the nation’s movement back in the direction of fiscal sanity and I believe is going to result in a very good election for Republicans in 2022 and 2024,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who rose to prominence with the support of the Tea Party and is now considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, told HuffPost.
Cruz called Biden “boring but radical” ― two contrary notions that reveal how even one of America’s loudest bomb-throwers has had trouble animating the base over the new administration.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) argued the Tea Party movement didn’t really take off until Obama’s second 100 days in office, adding, “It wouldn’t surprise me if the same thing played out” under Biden.
Overall, Biden is proposing far more in spending during his first year in office than Obama ever did, making a bet that America will restore its faith in government after Congress provided relief from the deadly pandemic by handing out thousands of dollars in stimulus checks, unemployment assistance and COVID-19 vaccines.
Another reason why Biden may not face as much resistance as Obama did is the fact that he’s a white man in his 70s who has been in the public spotlight for decades. The Tea Party movement was fueled by race as much as economics ― a trend that continued into the Trump years. The election of a Black president for the first time in U.S. history galvanized a segment of the Republican Party, leading to the racist “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., a false notion that eventually put Trump, a top birther, into the Oval Office.
The biggest obstacle to the rise of another conservative political movement may be Trump, who as president repeatedly prodded his party to embrace higher government spending. The former president continues to suck up oxygen among the right, dangling endorsements to 2022 candidates and issuing threats to campaign against Republicans who crossed him in the past. On Thursday, Trump even called for the ouster of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a threat that may not faze McConnell but likely does other Republican lawmakers and prospective candidates.
Biden’s technocratic, toned-down way of governing ― a complete 180 from the chaos of the Trump presidency ― is disarming his potential opposition, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-N.J.) argued.
“People are not that angry at Joe Biden. Even folks who still prefer a Republican president are likely breathing a little sigh of relief that all this isn’t dominating their life the way it used to,” Murphy said.
Even Cruz agreed that Biden’s low-key style is working for him.
“It’s probably smart politics for the Biden White House for people to wake up and not ask themselves, ‘What did the president tweet last night?’” he said during an interview on Fox News this week.
Biden has only a short window of time to move his proposals through Congress even if conservatives don’t get organized this year. With razor-thin majorities in both the House and Senate, Democrats face the very real prospect of losing at least one legislative chamber in next year’s midterm elections ― a pattern repeated consistently for the party of a first-term president in recent decades. Republicans are feeling optimistic about their chances of taking back the House, in particular, where Democrats currently hold only a three-seat majority.
But Democrats say they’re confident that passing big, bold policies that touch the lives of millions of Americans will ultimately help their chances of retaining control of Congress. It’s a risky proposition, one that did not pay off in 2010 after they enacted the Affordable Care Act, which was villainized by the right at the time but has since become quite popular.
“I do think there’s a dynamic that he doesn’t feel as threatening,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said of Biden when asked whether race was a factor. “The more he can build on that to get things done that people feel actually impacts their lives, then this could be a very different midterm than what we’ve experienced, the see-saw, over the last 20 years.”