WASHINGTON — Progressive Democrats who want to reform the police, smash the filibuster or fix climate change may be disappointed with President Joe Biden on his 100th day in office this week, but the new president has already met the expectations of one piece of the coalition that voted for him: Republicans.
By not live-tweeting television shows all morning, cozying up to dictators, firing off slapdash executive orders or lying pretty much constantly, Biden has, just three months into his term, accomplished the singular goal those supporters wanted — simply by not being his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“When I hear from 2016 Trump-2020 Biden voters, they talk about their sense of relief that Trump is gone,” said Sarah Longwell, a Republican consultant who worked to defeat Trump in November. “Like he was a car alarm that had been going off for years that was finally silenced.”
That silence is itself a welcome benefit of Biden’s win, said George Conway, a Trump supporter in 2016 who quickly became an outspoken critic, even as his wife remained a top White House aide. “It’s just so soothing not to be bombarded on a daily basis with evidence that the president is a deranged imbecile,” he said.
And Mac Stipanovich, for decades a Republican consultant in Florida who has worked for former Gov. Jeb Bush and was former Gov. Bob Martinez’s chief of staff, said he and other Republicans aren’t necessarily crazy about the policies Biden is pushing. The end to the endless madness and manufactured crises, though, is worth it, he said.
“I personally consider Trump and what he stands for, and his toadies he left behind, to pose an existential threat to the United States,” Stipanovich said.
Existential dread had been a defining symptom for most politically active Democrats almost from the moment Trump unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016. And more so than many of the other Democrats running in 2020, Biden made getting Trump out of the Oval Office the overarching theme of his campaign, and openly courted independents and even Republicans who were sick of Trump’s behavior to join his cause.
Republican consultants like Longwell, many of whom spoke out against Trump in the 2016 election, made a far more organized effort four years later, forming groups like The Lincoln Project and Longwell’s own Republican Voters Against Trump to run ads hitting Trump and to help turn out disaffected Republicans for Biden.
In an election decided by 42,918 votes across three states, their work was almost certainly critical to Biden’s victory.
While only 6% of self-described Republicans voted for him over Trump, he appears to have done much better among Republican-leaning independents, according to exit polling. Trump won independents overall by 4 percentage points in 2016, but Biden won them by 13 four years later.
More tellingly: Trump lost a full 7% of his 2016 voters who cast a ballot in 2020, while Biden only lost 4% of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 voters who turned out four years later.
“The ’16 voters who put aside his temperament understood he was running against Hillary, whom they had no love lost for. The same could not be said about Biden,” said Neil Newhouse, a top Republican pollster. “Biden did better with moderates and suburbanites. That put him over the top.”
Newhouse said that the vast majority of self-described Republicans voted for Trump and do not approve of Biden’s performance since taking office. “Most polls show between 85% and 90% disapproval of Biden among R’s,” he said.
One poll released last week, conducted for The Economist by YouGov, shows Biden with 6% of Republicans “strongly approving” of his performance, and 11% “somewhat approving.”
Among that 17% is Amanda Carpenter, once a top aide to Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. “I voted Biden to displace Trump and crush COVID,” she said. “The first mission has been accomplished and the second is looking good. Thanks, Joe.”
“I think the fact that he is the anti-Trump, reasonable, sane, empathetic, uncorrupt, has helped. But I also think that he has managed a competent government ― the opposite of Trump’s kakistocracy,” said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “Managed the rollout of vaccines beautifully. Got money to people and a rescue package against the odds. Has honest and qualified people in the agencies and the White House. Has been low-key and reasonable. In every sense, the opposite of Trump.”
Fergus Cullen, a former state chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party who also opposed Trump, agreed that the low-key approach Biden has taken has been exactly what he and like-minded Republicans had wanted. “They’ve been competent, have avoided drama, have made a determined effort to avoid antagonizing Trump supporters or getting baited into back-and-forths with him,” he said. “Talk about ‘No Drama Obama’ — Biden’s even better.”
Stipanovich said he has “deep reservations” about some of the policies Biden is pursuing to satisfy the “zealots in his party,” and the associated trillions of dollars of debt his jobs and infrastructure programs will entail.
“But at the end of the end of the day, he’s not Donald Trump,” Stipanovich said, explaining why he will continue supporting Biden until Trump and his ilk are expunged from the Republican Party. “I’m like an American sailor on the Murmansk run during WWII, running tanks to the Communists. What else can I do?”