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GOP laughs off Biden’s 'ultra-MAGA' attack, calling it 'hilarious'

Biden officials, though, are digging in. "The term ‘MAGA’ is repellent to swing voters," a source familiar with the White House strategy told NBC News.
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President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 21.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

“Ultra MAGA.” “MAGA King.” President Joe Biden, who dodged the words “Donald Trump” for more than a year, has suddenly integrated the Trump political movement into his daily lexicon. 

While the White House is employing the tactic purposefully, it doesn’t mean it’s about to engage in culture wars.  

Instead, Biden is attempting what on its face seems unthinkable: Knock the GOP on its heels by tying its message to a policy platform issued by a relatively obscure Florida senator, Rick Scott. They're doing it with a term Republicans embrace – they're already selling it on merchandise and fundraising off it – with the GOP already predicting it'll backfire, and Scott’s political operation saying it couldn’t be happier.

“It’s hilarious. They’re highlighting their single biggest vulnerability,” said Curt Anderson, a top political adviser and founder of the firm OnMessage Inc., which consults for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and numerous senators and candidates. “It’s almost like they are trying to harm themselves.” 

Whether it's the subject of ridicule from Republicans, though, doesn't matter to the White House.

“There’s a very sound, databased research that the term ‘MAGA’ is repellant to swing voters,” a source familiar with the White House strategy told NBC News.

The research, according to the person, was conducted by the Center for American Progress and other Democrats over more than six months.

MAGA is an unmistakable word that easily conveys "extremism" to Republicans own base, and that's how Democrats want to paint Republicans during the midterms, White House officials said.

“The plan that congressional Republicans have put forward — whether it’s raising taxes on working families, to picking fights with Mickey Mouse and banning books, are extreme plans that do not focus on the concerns of families across the country,” said Kate Berner, a White House spokesperson. “The President thinks it’s important to call out those plans for what they are, which is extreme and ultra MAGA and contrast them with his approach.” 

Though his party has been hankering for Biden to get more aggressive with Republicans, even Democratic analysts admit the strategy is a risky one. While the White House notes that Americans cite inflation and the rising cost of energy and food as their top worries — Americans squarely blame the White House for inflation and rising gas prices. 

However, painting Republicans' broader agenda as extreme could dovetail well with Democrats' arguments against the Supreme Court's pending plan to overturn abortion protections.

A smattering of red states have discussed a range of more restrictive regulations tied to reproductive rights. In Louisiana, for example, a panel proposed, then paused, taking up a new law that would allow women to be charged with murder if they obtain an abortion. 

“This is something the president is going to talk about; reproductive health care, reproductive rights -- and we will have more to say when the Supreme Court issued a decision on this,” Berner said.

But abortion isn't where the White House is focusing its "ultra-MAGA" rhetoric.

It's geared at Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who heads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm. In February, he proposed an economic plan that included taxing all Americans. The White House pointed to polls that showed little support for the tax aspect of his plan (though other features, like adding police funding and congressional term limits, were popular).

This week, Biden used his bully pulpit to attack Scott, the head of the GOP’s Senate election committee, over the economic plan. 

Some Democratic strategists and donors say the president is making a mistake in deflecting attention toward his predecessor at a time when many voters are focused on inflation.

Not only is the two-step argument a complicated message — Scott’s plan is more MAGA than Trump — but persuadable voters will credit or blame Biden for his handling of the economy, these critics say.

“The problem with the White House is they keep thinking that Donald Trump is on the ballot. This is the part when you get fixated on bogeyman politics. When you fixate on bogeyman politics, it only really works when the bogeyman is around," Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis said. “It does not work when you are the president and you are the party in control.”

One prominent party fundraiser expressed confusion at the ultra-MAGA branding.

“It sounds silly and it’s elevating and proliferating MAGA and Trump,” the fundraiser said.

But John Anzalone, who has served as Biden’s chief pollster, says the opposite is true. Scott's plan has been embraced by some national Republicans and, as of now, it's their main offering.

“It’s smart politics. And not very complicated politics, by the way,” Anzalone said. Scott heads the committee in charge of taking back the Senate. "Therefore, you know what the midterms are all about [for the GOP] and Joe Biden is telling you what he stands for, and whose side he stands on."

Republicans say Americans aren't going to buy it and for their part, this new tactic is not only futile, it's passing the buck.

“Biden’s never taken responsibility for any of the crises he’s created so it’s not surprising that he’s now trying to blame Rick Scott, Republicans and whatever ‘ultra MAGA’ means,” said Chris Hartline, spokesman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.