Biden’s ‘Uncle Joe’ moments feed Republican claims.
President Joe Biden may be commander in chief, but he has not ditched his “Uncle Joe” persona, cultivated over almost half a century in politics.
Republicans contend Biden’s sometimes-doddering ways are calculated to obscure his liberal priorities as he, his aides, and their congressional allies take advantage of narrow majorities on Capitol Hill before the 2022 midterm elections.
Biden’s folksy reputation and low-key approach to the presidency belies the political transformation being spearheaded by his administration, according to Republican strategist Jeanette Hoffman.
“These things when Joe Biden says, ‘It’s not me, I’m not in charge,’ it’s part of the whole shtick that he has going that he’s just ‘Uncle Joe’ and you can trust him. He’s just a nice guy, and he’s not out to do anything crazy or make any big changes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth because this is the most liberal and radical socialist agenda our country has ever seen,” she told the Washington Examiner.
After four turbulent years of former President Donald Trump, Biden’s campaign promise to be boring achieves a comparable effect, Hoffman said.
“To his credit, it’s really kind of brilliant because it deflects a lot of the Republican criticism because people are like, ‘It’s Joe Biden,'” the Marathon Public Affairs president added. “It’s kind of like this ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ presidency: He’s this old guy, and everybody else is pulling the strings in the background. He definitely knows what he’s doing. This is very calculated.”
The problem for Biden is that he needs to better balance authenticity with authority if he wants to drum up support among lawmakers and the public for his more than $4 trillion worth of infrastructure and social welfare proposals.
“I guess boring is safe, so maybe that’s a good thing, but boring is also boring,” Hoffman said. “There’s no enthusiasm behind it. There’s no excitement.”
Cesar Conda, a fellow Republican strategist with consulting firm Navigators Global, agreed Biden’s “Uncle Joe” image was designed to “hide his radical left-wing policy agenda.” Behind closed doors, and sometimes in public, the president has demonstrated fits of frustration and impatience, laced with profanities, a character trait he attributes to being of Irish descent.
“And it’s working,” said Conda, an alumnus of former Vice President Dick Cheney and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s offices. “He also purposely baits Republicans into fights over mask-wearing, instead of fighting his big-government ideas.”
Ryan Berger, Conda’s Navigators Global colleague and a former National Republican Senatorial Committee staffer, could not say whether Biden was hamming up his persona more aggressively intentionally, but concurred with Conda and Hoffman regarding the outcome.
“The president’s decision to try and use his ‘everyday guy’ image to mask rising inflation, a crisis on the border, and worker shortages may be a clever plan inside the Beltway, but voters across the country want results on these critical issues — not some image designed to deflect from the very liberal agenda he is pursuing,” Berger said.
Biden’s public speaking tics have received more attention since he moved into the White House, given he is now the leader of the free world. Republicans have particularly seized on his habit of suggesting that he will get into “trouble” for answering questions or for forgetting his mask, when the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommended wearing one, despite being a details-obsessed executive manager behind the scenes.
“Look, I’m sorry. I’m going to — this is the last question I’ll take, and I’ve ha- — I’m really going to be in trouble,” he told reporters last month on the White House North Lawn after providing a COVID-19 update.
Earlier in April, Biden made a similar statement while touring Virginia Theological Seminary, a COVID-19 vaccination site.
“Keep wearing a mask. Soci — wash the hands and socially distance, which I’m not doing,” he said. “I’m going to get in trouble here.”
He even referenced getting in “trouble” four times during a town hall in February televised by CNN from Michigan.
“You know, I don’t know what I ever expected it to be. I — it is different in that — I’ll get in trouble in here. I said when I was running, I wanted to be president, not to live in the White House, but to be able to make the decisions about the future of the country. And so living in the White House, as you’ve heard other presidents who have been extremely flattered to live there, has — it’s a little like a gilded cage in terms of being able to walk outside and do things,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told former President Barack Obama’s chief political strategist David Axelrod that Biden’s communications team routinely advises him against fielding reporter inquiries.
“In fact, a lot of times we say, ‘Don’t take questions,’ you know, but he’s going to do what he wants to do because he’s the president,” she said last week.
Another tic is Biden’s penchant for introducing himself as first lady Jill Biden’s husband. The 78-year-old also depends heavily on his aides for cues during events, from when to start speaking or where to exit after delivering remarks, a holdover from the campaign during which he was mocked for relying on a teleprompter in his “basement.”