Democrats criticize Biden in secret but support him publicly. Sound familiar?

Democrats criticize Biden in secret but support him publicly. Sound familiar?

For years, Democrats have mocked Republicans for their politically cowardly loyalty to former President Donald Trump.

They rolled their eyes as their Republican colleagues claimed they simply hadn’t seen the latest tweet. They spoke knowingly about how many Republicans admitted behind closed doors that they actually wished Trump would just disappear – Rumpelstiltskin-style, in a puff of smoke – and never be heard from again.

But now they are following the strategies of the Republicans.

After President Biden’s halting and politically damaging performance at the June 27 debate, Democratic lawmakers and strategists who have regularly attacked Republicans are offering an often painfully frank assessment in private (Biden can’t beat Trump and must resign) and a different, less than truthful assessment in public (Biden had “a bad night,” but he’s ready to beat Trump).

They have also begun offering variations on the excuse: “I just need to see more of Biden to support him with conviction” – their version of the foolproof Republican excuse: “I didn’t see the tweet.”

“We’ve spent years shaming Republicans for blindly following Trump over the proverbial cliff, especially when it meant electoral disaster for their party, as it did in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 election cycles,” said Michael LaRosa, a former White House communications official under Biden. “It turns out we’re just as loyal to our party’s name or leader, even when it poses political risk to everyone in the party running for election.”

Actor George Clooney, a prominent Democratic donor, also echoed the quieter part of his statement in an op-ed in the New York Times on Wednesday, urging party leaders to “stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw.”

“We like to talk about how the Republican Party has ceded all the power and characteristics that made it so formidable under Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush to a single person trying to hold on to the presidency, and yet most of our members of Congress prefer to wait and see if the dam breaks,” Clooney wrote, before urging Democrats to “tell the truth.”

Of course, the situations are hardly comparable. In the case of Trump – who can be tyrannical, cruel, misogynistic and regularly uses racist stereotypes and untruths – it is character issues that have long repelled Republican voters and politicians alike.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, an “Access Hollywood” video surfaced in which Trump bragged about groping women, and more than a dozen women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct. Last year, a New York jury found that Trump sexually abused and defamed writer E. Jean Carroll, and recently another New York jury convicted him on 34 counts of falsifying business records. He also refused to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election and encouraged his supporters to do the same – a decision that ultimately contributed to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

In contrast, in the eyes of his supporters, Biden’s only sin at the moment is aging and publicly grappling with the humiliations and fragility that come with entering his ninth decade of life.

“I reject the magnitude of Biden’s failures compared to Trump’s – there is simply no comparison,” said Tim Miller, a former Republican strategist and ardent Trump critic who writes for the website Bulwark.

Miller added, however, that he still sees similarities between his former party and the way Democrats are dealing with the current situation.

“The private-public divide as a means of self-protection and career protection is very similar – it masks careerists’ unwillingness to tell the truth behind the false, high-minded notion that they are doing the right thing in private,” Miller said.

But here, too, Democrats are more open overall than many Republicans loyal to Trump. So far, 12 representatives and one senator have called on Biden to step down as the party’s presidential candidate, and several other members of both chambers have made their concerns public. On Wednesday, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) explicitly said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Biden – who has repeatedly said he has no plans to step down – must make a “decision” about whether to run for president.

During the Trump years – and even now – the Republicans who dared to say publicly what many of their colleagues whispered in private were almost reduced to a lonely trio: Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. (The two representatives are no longer in office, and Romney is retiring when his term expires at the end of this year.)

Will Ritter, co-founder of the center-right advertising agency Poolhouse, said that during Trump’s presidency, the Democrats’ message was constantly: “‘Brokered Convention,’ ’25th Amendment,’ ‘protect the party,’ ‘protect democracy.'”

Now, however, Ritter said, “Democrats are heading for a cliff,” and the new message is “a bad night” and “he’s always stuttered” – a reference to comments by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a co-chair of Biden’s campaign team, who said Tuesday that Biden has long stuttered and that his statements should not be held to “too high a standard.”

“We get honest words from George Clooney and nice puns from almost every elected Democrat,” he said.

Since Biden’s debate debut, the president’s team has also lost credibility with the media – a public rift that comes after years of Biden’s aides intimidating reporters for daring to address the 81-year-old president’s age.

“The other thing that Republican staffers were just laughing about is that the Biden administration is finally getting a big dose of what the normal Republican candidate gets when it comes to the press,” said Elise Jordan, a former George W. Bush aide and 2016 presidential campaign assistant to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who now considers herself an independent. “It’s just so much harder to deal with, and it’s not going to end.”

Biden, too, exhibits some traits that Trump and some other politicians share. He distrusts negative polls. He has begun railing against “elites” and the media. He now relies heavily on what he sees and hears in person, in situations tailored only to his supporters. And he has surrounded himself with a small, insular circle that is reluctant to give him bad news.

Jordan said her impression from Biden’s interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last Friday was that Biden was “absolutely Trumpist.”

“He was so arrogant and seemed to feel entitled to the office, even though it was not an honor to hold it. And he didn’t seem to care about democracy, which is supposedly the only reason he is running,” Jordan said.

In some ways, the about-face by many Democrats may not matter. A key voting bloc this election cycle is the “double haters,” disillusioned with both major parties. Yet many remain driven by negative partisanship—the belief that the other side is so cosmically awful that party tribalism sets in and they will show up and vote for virtually anyone who stops them, in the Democrats’ case, Trump.

LaRosa, for example, describes himself as a Biden supporter who has never supported a challenge to Biden or any third-party candidate. But since leaving the White House, he has at times been publicly critical of Democrats and the Biden operation, noting that their strategy “over the last year has been to deny data, undermine or ridicule anyone who questions it, and wage war on the free press.”

“Now President Biden is left with no goodwill whatsoever and his message is being undermined,” LaRosa said. “You can’t say Trump is a threat to democracy while crucifying reporters for asking questions, telling us not to believe poll after poll, and rigging the primary process to crush your political opposition.”

“It’s all,” he added, “kind of Trump-like, to be honest.”