After Biden won the presidency in part by claiming a larger share of college-educated suburban voters, some of his GOP foes see his early moves as an opportunity to brand him as an elitist president catering to the nation’s coastal professionals at the expense of its heartland laborers. The burgeoning dynamic underscores how the battle over populism is likely to animate the nation’s politics even after Trump leaves the White House and is replaced by a man who has called himself “Middle Class Joe.”
While Trump’s populism often manifested in style rather than substance, he was able to appeal to a unique coalition of voters that politicians from both parties are now aiming to capture in a post-Trump era, said Amy Walter, national editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“It’s this us-versus-them mentality — a belief system that there’s a real America, and we’re the only party fighting for it,” Walter said. “I think that’s where Trump was the most successful, and I don’t know how well anyone else is going to be able to do that.”
His decision to nominate Harvard-educated Antony Blinken for secretary of state, Yale-educated Jake Sullivan for national security adviser and Yale-educated former secretary of state John F. Kerry as the special presidential envoy for climate sparked immediate backlash among Republicans aiming to take up the populist mantle.
“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter. “I support American greatness. And I have no interest in returning to the ‘normal’ that left us dependent on China.”
Rubio’s missive was echoed by a handful of other GOP senators, including some who also have been floated as potential presidential candidates in 2024. Each tried to make an anti-elitist case against Biden’s team of educated, experienced officials with backgrounds in government and international diplomacy.
The attacks highlight the delicate balance Biden may have to strike to stand up a government capable of carrying out his policies without ceding ground to GOP contenders hoping to re-create Trump’s success with White working-class voters in 2016 and his modest improvements with working-class minorities in 2020.
Biden made direct appeals to those voters during his campaign, often using populist language of his own to describe his policies and approach to governing.
Branding himself a son of middle-class Scranton, Pa., Biden campaigned against Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations and tried to cast the presidential race as “Scranton versus Park Avenue.”
“We’re used to guys who look down their nose at us, or people who look at us and think that we’re suckers, look at us and they think that we don’t, that we’re not equivalent to that,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in September.
He attacked “guys like Trump” for thinking “you must be stupid, if in fact you didn’t get to go to an Ivy school.”
In contrast, Trump has boasted about his Ivy League degree from the University of Pennsylvania while mocking Biden for his educational credentials.
“Don’t ever use the word smart with me,” Trump told Biden during the first presidential debate. “Don’t ever use that word. Because you know what? There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.”
Trump’s Cabinet was the wealthiest in modern history, filled with well-educated secretaries with resumes bearing such names as Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil and OneWest Bank Group. While the president touted their pedigrees, calling some of them “killers,” he also embraced a nationalist governing philosophy that resonated with working-class voters who welcomed his brash attacks on Washington’s elites and the ills of globalism.
Republican officials are hoping to build on that playbook by attacking Biden and his incoming team with a…