Their aggressive moves on immigration, easing gun restrictions, targeting social media giants and adding restrictive voting laws seem tailored to please the ex-President and, more importantly, to tap into his support base as they prep reelection races that could merge seamlessly into 2024 White House runs.
Republican-led state legislatures, meanwhile, are drafting and passing a slew of election laws that discriminate against Democratic voters and threaten nonpartisan election certifications. Changes from Arizona to Texas and Michigan to Florida are all built on Trump’s lies that last year’s election was stolen.
While elected GOP officials are implementing Trump brand policies even without him in the Oval Office, the consequences of his presidency are being felt as the new conservative Supreme Court majority shows its colors.
A challenge for Biden
The strength of America First policies in the red half of the United States underscores the nation’s gaping political divide since it comes at a time when Biden is more popular than Trump ever was nationally. With an approval rating around 50%, the President has so far appeared to retain the grip on the political middle ground that helped him defeat Trump last November.
“Over the past year, we’ve lived through some of our darkest days,” Biden said at a White House party Sunday.
“Now I truly believe … we’re about to see our brightest future,” he added.
The success of GOP policymaking outside Washington is piling even more pressure on the White House and Capitol Hill Democrats to make the most of what might be a narrow window of power before the midterm elections next year to pass one of the most ambitious party programs in decades.
Biden is seeking quick action on his bipartisan infrastructure deal with Republicans — a promise kept to voters who bought into his vow to bridge partisan divides.
The second bill would include many measures defined by the White House as “human infrastructure,” including home health care for sick and elderly Americans, and it would likely be financed by a rise in corporate tax rates.
The bill has the potential to be one of the most transformative pieces of social legislation passed in years and could significantly tilt the balance of the economy toward less well-off Americans — a process started by Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue bill. With its practical and ideological impact the measure would be more than a match for the conservative policy engine whirring in the states. But first Biden has to pass it.
Abbott and DeSantis lead the charge
One question that will be answered over the next couple of years is whether the dive right by Republicans — which delights the party base — will further alienate suburban voters who deserted Trump in 2020. At the same time, if Biden can deliver on his agenda he might not only excite his core voters — whom Democrats badly need to show up en masse in the midterms — it might also validate his own appeal to centrist voters and even anti-Trump Republicans.
The enthusiasm with which Republicans are extending Trump’s political legacy is meanwhile an early indicator that whether the ex-President runs in 2024 or not, his political inheritance will again be on the ballot.
In Texas, for instance, Abbott is leading the charge among Republicans seeking to paint a picture of a nation in crisis, riddled by crime and plagued by a tide of undocumented migrants in a bid to wound the Biden presidency.
“Mr. President, things have changed so quickly and so dramatically under the Biden administration. It’s been amazing and disastrous,” Abbott told Trump last week when the twice-impeached ex-commander in chief visited Texas to accompany the governor on a trip to the US-Mexico border.
Abbott has called back the state legislature for a special session in a new bid to pass restrictive voting laws. Democrats initially managed to stall the bills by walking off the floor to deprive Republicans of a quorum needed to hold votes.
One-upmanship on the border
Abbott’s border play has not gone unnoticed by other potential GOP presidential primary rivals.
He may have made the most progress of any potential 2024 presidential candidate not named Donald Trump in aligning himself with the issues that electrify the party.
But the Florida governor showed a deft touch in putting politics aside when Biden visited bereaved relatives of the victims of the collapsed condo building near Miami, potentially showing he could carve out more moderate appeal.
DeSantis is not just implementing policies that Trump might like. He also appears to be trying to move out of the shadow of the former President, who once regarded him as a protege — a potential cause of future tensions between the two.
The Florida governor, for example, recently signed a bill banning transgender athletes from competing in female sports. GOP strategists see the issue as one with appeal wider than their own grass roots as the midterm elections loom. He also gained kudos among voters who believe that Trump has been “canceled” by social media platforms.
It is a record that makes DeSantis an emerging hero of the conservative movement — and a key player in the intensifying ideological battle that will help define Biden’s presidency and the fate of the next two national elections.