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Friday, August 12, 2022

OPINION:

Americans have come to expect a President Biden who isn’t firing on all cylinders. Polling shows even Democrats have grave concern about his mental and physical condition. Stilted, tired speeches, rambling nonsensical comments, uncomfortable stares into the camera and slurred words create an increasingly disturbing spectacle for Americans thirsting for leadership during challenging times.

For Republicans, this is a double-edged sword. It would be a mistake for GOP leaders to use Biden’s approval rating and concerns over his mental and physical health as a political panacea when it comes to this election cycle.


They should consider that Mr. Biden’s performance has been so abysmal, that Americans are beginning to detach other Democrats from the president’s performance.

Mr. Biden has become an outlier. He inhabits a political no man’s land between the socialist left and a fading moderate Democrat establishment that lacks confidence in his ability to draw the party toward the center.

Voters believe he’s weak and only marginally in control. Never in history have party loyalists abandoned a newly elected president with such speed and alacrity.

Long-time New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s matter-of-fact statement last week that the president won’t seek election is a public instance of the widespread private conversation happening around Washington. While she attempted to walk it back, the statement said it all: They can’t wait to put him out to pasture.

It’s easy for conservative and Republican pundits to suggest that because Mr. Biden’s approval is hovering at or near historic lows that voters will reflexively look for alternatives from the opposition party. Certainly, this could be a solid theory for some voter segments. But the whole notion that Mr. Biden’s job approval is going to automatically shift independents in swing districts and purple states to the Republican candidate is highly speculative.

Former President Donald Trump continues to beat up on Mr. Biden during his freewheeling rally speeches. It’s certainly a crowd-pleaser when he does, but Democrats may not be saddled with Biden as much as Republicans would like to believe.

Voters will separate perceived outliers from the larger political corpus.

In 2020 and 2021, Republicans benefitted from this phenomenon to some degree, as voters who loathed the idea of a Trump second term, or later recoiled at the Jan. 6 riot, still came out to vote for Republican Congress members, governors and state legislators.

The pundit class predicted Mr. Trump’s negatives would drive the electorate headlong into the arms of the Democratic Party. They were wrong. Republicans won seats in the House and only lost the Senate due to the post-election drama in Georgia that kept Senate runoff voters home by the thousands.

The GOP would do well to remember that congressional races are local elections. They are influenced by the national political inertia of the cycle to be sure, but they are also viewed by voters through a more provincial lens.

If one of the biggest drivers of the national political dynamic like Mr. Biden is less of a factor in the minds of the voters, the races become more of a street fight — and Republicans tend not to be bare-knuckle brawlers.

If voters aren’t apt to make congressional Democrats, particularly senators, pay for Mr. Biden’s collapse, Republicans will need to give voters more compelling reasons to vote for them.

Right now, their Senate candidates, hand-picked by Mr. Trump in some cases, are underperforming. The congressional generic ballot is not nearly in “red wave” territory in most surveys, though it is likely less as predictive as it used to be after redistricting. Republicans are being outraised in a year when they are supposed to be crushing it while Mr. Trump is sitting on more than $130 million and doesn’t seem willing to part with it.

Oversimplification of complex political dynamics can lead to overconfidence and lazy campaigns. In the final analysis, Mr. Biden and this White House may factor less into what happens in November than people believed likely or possible just a few months ago.

Republicans may still win in November, but if they want to meet the lofty expectations they have set for themselves, they’ll need to give voters more than “Biden bad.” They need to realize this will still be a block-by-block street fight.

After two years of the endless pandemic, economic chaos, crushing crime and a border invasion, Americans want to know how you’ll fix it. Ideas and solutions still matter. 2022 won’t be a free ride.

• Tom Basile is the host of “America Right Now” on Newsmax Television, an author and a former Bush administration official.


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