Is President Biden a socialist? Do socialists control him?
Republicans will try to convince voters the answer to both questions is yes, according to Biden’s political archenemy. In a recent interview with Yahoo Finance, former President Donald Trump hinted at the script Republicans will use against Biden and his fellow Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections. When voters elected Biden president last year, it “was not a mandate to change the norms of our society," Trump said. "This was not a mandate to become a socialist country, or worse.”
During the 2020 campaign, Trump argued that Biden, if he won, would be a puppet of left-wing, big-government tax-and-spenders. Now, Trump is pointing to Biden’s “build back better” plan as proof that he was right. Biden backs a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that has some Republicans support, along with another $3.5 trillion in spending on social-welfare and green energy programs—which has zero GOP backing. Put it all together, and that’s the “socialism” Trump warned about last year.
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“The Republicans have a very strong card to play,” Trump told Yahoo Finance anchor Adam Shapiro during the Oct. 1 phone interview. “That’s a very powerful card. It’s a very strong card. You're talking about historic numbers and I just don't know if this economy can take it.”
Some Democrats aren’t sure, either. Democratic leaders in Congress have struggled to pass either of the big bills Biden wants, because Dems are warring among themselves about how much to spend (and tax). Liberal “progressives” such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington want as much spending as possible. But moderate Dems including Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona say $3.5 trillion is way too much. Manchin indicated recently he might only sign off on $1.5 trillion in new spending, plus the infrastructure bill.
The problem for Dems is their tiny majorities in both the House and the Senate, which means they need nearly unanimous Democratic support for anything that Republicans oppose. In that regard, Trump is right about the lack of a voter mandate. While Biden beat Trump by a comfortable 7 million votes last year, Democrats lost 11 seats in the House—not a landslide by any measure. Dems gained 3 seats in the Senate, giving them a one-vote majority, but that still gives any single Democrat veto power over legislation that goes too far, or not far enough, in their view.
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That’s the trap Democrats are stuck in now. Liberals won’t sign off on the infrastructure bill without a commitment to a giant $3.5 trillion social and climate bill. Moderates won’t support that much spending. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now wants Democrats to sort out their differences by Oct. 31, but it’s not clear they will.
If Democrats do pass most or all of that legislation, you’ll hear Trump and many other Republicans squawking about socialist Democrats as the 2022 midterm elections approach. They’ll point to generously funded new entitlements Democrats favor, such as an expanded child tax credit, free preschool for all American toddlers and federally subsidized family leave as evidence government has grown out of control under Biden and his fellow Democrats.
That doesn’t mean it will work with voters. There’s been a shift during the last decade in favor of more government involvement to address intractable problems such as worsening wealth inequality, unaffordable health care and racial injustice. Biden is no Bernie Sanders, but he did run in 2020 on a heftier government role in American society. Voters said yes.
It’s also possible Democrats will do a total face-plant and fail to pass any of Biden’s priorities. That would be an obvious humiliation for divided Democrats, and an indictment of Biden’s leadership capability. But it would also repudiate Trump’s socialism slur and force Republicans to find some other angle of attack. If you can’t figure out how to spend other people’s money, you’re not a very good socialist.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips, and click here to get Rick’s stories by email.
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