Joe Biden the Boring Radical Quietly Outshines Donald Trump the Predictable Showman

Joe Biden's central pitch ahead of his presidential election victory was simple: To be the antithesis of Donald Trump.

As an experienced, career politician—a known entity having been vice president and a veteran senator before that—Biden was sold as a return to normalcy in the White House; a more familiar presidential tone from a unifying centrist Democrat.

Gone are the days of late-night presidential Twitter tirades against political enemies and shock announcements on social media that set politics and the media ablaze.

Some may describe Biden's style politely as calm. Others who are less polite: Boring. But Biden's lowkey, pedestrian presentation belies a more radical, energetic truth: He has significantly changed America's course in his first 100 days.

"Better than I'd anticipated. Considerably so," Noam Chomsky, the prominent far-left intellectual and an important thinker for progressives, said of Biden's initial few weeks in a recent interview for leftist publication Truthout.

Trump, on the other hand, has continued his showmanship outside of the White House with colorful and often pugilistic rhetoric. But for a politician once able to surprise and disrupt, Trump's statements and stances are now dampened by their predictability.

Reversing Trump

"President Biden has turned his presidency into the most dramatic reversal of the Trump administration you could imagine," David Andersen, assistant professor in U.S. politics at Durham University in England, told Newsweek.

"While Trump had no real legislative agenda, and no policy proposals, his administration was defined by constant sensationalism, outrage, and bluster.

"His presidency was a communication strategy that kept Trump himself in the center stage of the nation's media system, even while he did very little with the powers of the presidency.

"Biden's administration is the complete polar opposite. It is calm, quiet, and reserved in its communications, but thunderous with its legislative agenda."

And while a change from Trump was always expected, the extent to which has perhaps surpassed predictions.

"Biden has definitely come out of the gates with a much more progressive agenda than most experts expected," Thomas Gift, lecturer in political science and founding director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London, told Newsweek.

"I think all of this shows the power of the changed composition of Congress. Democrats, of course, won two big runoff elections in Georgia. That gave them control of both chambers.

"It wasn't expected. But because it happened, many Democrats now feel that they have a very narrow window to pass major, durable progressive legislation. There's a sense of, 'it's now or never.'

"Lurching leftward may not have been Biden's original impulse, but it's where Democrats—and progressives, especially— are pushing him. So far, he hasn't resisted."

This contrast in style and action has left Biden's enemies struggling to pigeonhole him. They call his politics dull and scripted but also extreme. The result is seemingly oxymoronic: Biden the boring radical.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who fell asleep during Biden's speech to Congress marking his first 100 days as president, even tweeted the hashtag "#boringbutradical" in response to footage of him drifting off during the address. He reiterated the line to Fox News.

"The speech tonight you could sum up in three words: Boring but radical. The speech by design was calm and dulcet tones," Cruz told Sean Hannity's show that evening.

"I challenge you to remember a single line from the speech...and that really has characterized the first 100 days of Joe Biden. That he has tried to say nothing notable, he's tried to tweet nothing notable.

"I think they've made the political decision that many people were tired of the drama of the previous four years and they wanted something calm. But Joe is deliberately being boring but the substance of what he's saying is radical.

"This is the most radical first 100 days of any president in the history of this country."

joe biden and donald trump
This combination of photos shows Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. Brendan Smialowski/Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The start of Biden's presidency began with an immediate rebuke of Trump; a raft of swift executive actions that reversed the policies of his predecessor. The White House characterized it as undoing "the gravest damages of the Trump administration."

These actions included pausing construction of the border wall—a key focus of Trump's campaigning and presidency—signing back on to the Paris climate agreement, and rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO).

Biden's Focus

According to an Associated Press tally, Biden has completed 25 of the 61 key promises for his first 100 days and partially met 33 others. COVID-19 has been a key factor in Biden's early actions, a motivation behind re-joining the WHO.

Pushing through a fresh relief bill was a major priority, and the sprawling $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was signed in March. Biden is now eyeing a vast $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Republicans say it is too much money.

A goal of administering 200 million COVID-19 vaccines in his first 100 days has also been met, though Trump's allies suggest the former president deserves more credit than he is receiving on the rollout.

Immigration reform has been another major focus. On top of pausing the wall, other reforms included revising deportation criteria and taking steps to reunite separated migrant families. Biden has also sent a new immigration plan to Congress.

Republican lawmakers fiercely attacked Biden's immigration policies, arguing they have exacerbated the issues at the southern border amid a surge of migrants attempting to enter the United States the president is accused of encouraging.

Biden's presidency has also heralded a big push on climate change, such as rescinding the Keystone XL oil pipeline permit and rejoining the Paris agreement, which Republicans have decried for putting American jobs at risk.

Biden promised to convene a global summit on climate change, which he hosted virtually in April.

With his address to Congress on Wednesday, Biden further outlined his ambitions for the nation pitching trillions of dollars in spending on infrastructure and expanding access to education and healthcare.

Such ideas are likely to get little buy-in from Republicans concerned with such major expenditure. His speech drew wide criticism from the GOP, such as Cruz's.

In two tweets following the address, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decried "radical agendas designed to push us apart."

"Republicans stand for the principles and policies that unite Americans and expand opportunity for working families," McConnell wrote.

He later added: "Last night, President Biden talked about unity and togetherness. But he delivered a multi-trillion-dollar shopping list that was not even intended to earn bipartisan buy-in. A lengthy liberal daydream that would force American families' lives into Washington Democrats' mold."

A White House official told Newsweek: "In his first 100 days, President Biden acted to get America back on track by addressing the crises facing this nation: Vaccinating America to beat the pandemic, delivering much-needed help to American families, making transformative investments to rescue and rebuild our economy, and fundamentally showing that government can deliver for its people.

"In these 100 days of rescue, repair, and renewal, the nation is healthier, safer, more prosperous, fairer, and more competitive."

Meanwhile, Trump, now based at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida with his Office of the 45th President and denuded of Twitter since his ban in January, fires regular damning but familiar missives at Biden and his assorted enemies via emailed statements.

He also often gives interviews to friendly media, though most go over the same talking points that delight his passionate supporter base, rarely venturing into new territory.

The former president has kept open the prospect of running in 2024, and polls show he would be the clear frontrunner, maintaining his grip on the GOP. But, out of office, his notorious ability to command attention is not what it was.

Practical Change

Biden's presentational contrast to Trump's braggadocio isn't just a symbol of the political gulf between the two men. The style also serves a practical purpose for Biden.

Focusing less on day-to-day headlines and the news cycle allows him to sustain focus on long-term goals—and to keep hold of Washington's attention, too.

"Trump was the outlier," Jon Herbert, senior lecturer in the school of social, political and global studies at Keele University and a co-author of The Ordinary Presidency of Donald J. Trump, told Newsweek.

"He was the president who seemed to have a compulsive need to dominate the media environment and Twitter, with some mainstream media collaboration, gave him the means to do that.

"A lot of Trump's leadership—whether as a business executive, media star or politician—was about communication first and he was quite effective at that. That need to dominate the agenda, though, was at the expense of consistent policy leadership.

"If you're focused on taking the next headline as first priority, you need to deliver a steady stream of news, whether outrage generation or policy decision. In Trump's case, that led to a scattershot agenda."

Herbert said the cost to Trump was weakening his influence over the legislative and executive branches because he did not focus Washington and the media on specific points of policy or his agenda for an extended period of time.

"You have to hold people's feet to the fire by not letting them wait out attention to an issue. Trump's lack of focus didn't do that and his disappointing legislative record reflects his choice to prioritize control of the media headline in each 24 hours," he said.

Herbert said Biden's experience means he can recognize those drawbacks to Trump's approach, and work more astutely to get his plans carried out.

Richard Johnson, lecturer in U.S. politics and policy at Queen Mary University of London, told Newsweek that Biden's positions have allowed him to manage expectations of his presidency so far.

"Often politics is about expectation management. Biden has managed expectations well," Johnson said.

"He was expected to be a disappointment by many in the Democratic Party. But, his policy program looks likely to be the biggest investment in the public realm in a couple of generations.

"Part of this is explainable by the fact that Biden has always sought to position himself in the center of his party.

"In past decades, this would have meant being an ideological centrist, given that the party contained some powerful conservative ('Blue Dog') elements.

"Today, the party takes up a different space in American politics. To be in the center ground of the Democratic Party is to be firmly on the center-left of American politics.

"If we simplistically see the Democratic Party as running from a spectrum of left-wing socialists to social democrats to centrist liberals, Biden now finds himself in 'social democratic' territory."

Through that framing, Johnson said Biden is arguably on the left of most presidents historically, while also having the congressional power to push such change.

"In contrast, Trump spent last year overselling what he could do, especially on the pandemic, and underdelivering," Johnson said.

"Trump has spent a career overpromising, but usually he finds a scapegoat when things don't turn out as planned.

"He has not been able to do very effectively this time, in part because the problems are so big, it's difficult to pin it on one person or set of persons.

"The absence of Twitter does really seem to have affected Trump, and it's not yet clear to me how he can compensate."

But while Biden's subdued communications may have long-term benefits, they have drawn fire from adversaries. The delay in his solo press conference, for example, was seized upon by political opponents as hiding from the public.

"Biden may want to claim that he's not always in the public limelight because he's too busy working behind the scenes on behalf of the American people," Gift, of University College London, told Newsweek.

"But I think that's often just an excuse his press team uses because they know their boss is sometimes gaffe-prone and can arguably be a bit wobbly in live Q&As."

Still, approval rating figures suggest Biden is outshining Trump by some distance so far in the minds of American voters.

According to 538's average, Biden has closed off his first 100 days with 53.8 percent approval versus 41.5 percent disapproval. Trump's first 100 days ended with just 42 percent approval versus 52.7 percent approval.

Twitter Shift

One way Biden has reset presidential messaging is simple: Reverting to more traditional use of social media.

Andrew Chadwick, a professor of political communication at Loughborough University and author of The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power, highlighted a tweet from Biden in July 2020 which read: "You won't have to worry about my tweets when I'm president."

"I think that tweet explains a lot," Chadwick told Newsweek. "It's been pretty much a case of getting back to pre-2016 business as usual.

"What we're now seeing is a partial return to previous professional norms of presidential communication on social media. With Biden, it's mostly about policy announcements.

"There is still spin, promotional language, and selective presentation, but it's concretely related to specific policy goals and achievements.

"The personal moments, such as they exist, are mostly highly stage-managed, which links to a long tradition of such messaging in the US and other contexts."

Christian Fuchs, a professor at the University of Westminster and director of the Communication and Media Research Institute, told Newsweek he thinks Biden's approach will allow him to gain attention without resorting to the Trumpian style.

"Trump works with sensationalism, Biden with political ideas," Fuchs said. "In contrast to Trump, Biden will grab headlines with policy ideas instead of sensationalism.

"He and other non-populist politicians can redefine the way social media works away from superficiality, tabloidization and sensationalism towards policy ideas, debates and arguments."

And while much has and will continue to be made of the differences between Trump and Biden, Brian Klaas, associate professor in global politics at University College London and a columnist for The Washington Post, summed up the contrast bluntly.

"It isn't particularly surprising that presidents are able to get more accomplished when they spend their time governing the country rather than tweeting insults and fixating on television coverage," he told Newsweek.

Work Ahead

By day 100, a number of key priorities have been ticked off by Biden. However, he faces stern tests moving forward. So far, he has managed to push forward some actions without bipartisan agreement—but that's not a sustainable way of doing business.

"Overall, Biden has to be satisfied with the results of his initial days in office," Gift, of University College London, said.

"Still, Biden will be the first to concede that there's a tough road ahead. The surge of undocumented immigration at the US-Mexico border continues to be a major test for his administration, and it's possible this will serve as a drag on his approval numbers.

"The prospect of the White House getting through a major infrastructure bill also looks like an uphill battle given its initial reception in Washington."

Gift noted that "all of Biden's key accomplishments so far have come either via executive order or reconciliation in Congress—in other words, without Republican support."

"In many ways, his biggest tests, which will require forging compromise across the partisan aisle, lie head," Gift said.

"Those tests may prove even more challenging given that Biden already expended considerable political capital with his massive COVID relief bill, and given that many Republicans perceive that his administration has made few attempts to prove a commitment to bipartisan governance."

joe biden speaking in pittsburgh
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 31, 2021. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images