President Joe Biden, who has been on the ballot for more than fifty years, knows something about how to make voters happy.
When it comes down to explaining the reasons why even his party doesn’t like him anymore, Obama has taken the advice of a younger politician, who was the one who famously selected him as an Understudy. For eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama had a favorite—although often unfairly chosen—target when things weren’t going his way: the White House communications team.
Bad approval numbers heading into a midterm “shellacking”? Communication failure.
Obamacare’s lingering unpopularity? Sloganeering gone sideways.
ISIS’s rise? That was just one problem.
Obama consistently referred to Obama’s first Senate campaign in 2004, and his departure from Washington at the beginning of 2017, as his policy team was the one who made the mistake.,The underlying concept was never the same, and neither the salesman. The communication failure was the cause. Complete stop.
That posture, of course, absolved Obama of many of his administration’s sins while protecting his vaunted reputation as a master orator. His speech-making skills were well known. One time, while at a White House cocktail, he made a direct remark to me, right in front my confused father. I was complimenting his team for the job they did in Oslo that day on his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize. That was 100% him, he told me, at a time when the White House was arguing that the Democrats’ failure to hold the governors’ offices in Virginia or New Jersey a few weeks prior was totally someone else’s rhetorical shortcoming.
Obama certainly learned from Biden during their eight-year relationship. Biden was able to pick up the shoot-the messenger strategy with ease. Biden’s team is confined at the border by Judges. They are foiled by Fed interest rates and bedeviled at gas pumps by Vladimir Putin. The courts force Biden to start oil leases. This administration finds a way for everyone to get out of their own misery or to take over responsibility. But it can only work up to certain limits. However, eventually the public realizes there are bigger problems than just a few tweets or billboards. No TikTok summit is going to save the day. When things reach that problematic peak, it’s really, really tough to come back. Ask George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon B. Johnson about Hurricane Katrina.
Biden, to be fair, isn’t yet at this nadir. But he’s also not far from it.
Biden should be honest about his present situation and how much he can spend on the next few years, according to polling. A stunning two-thirds of Democrats want a new frontman in 2024—despite Biden’s consistent statements that he’ll run for re-election, according to The New York Times’ poll. Already the oldest person ever in the job, the 79-year-old Biden’s age is running even with his job performance as the top reason to dump him. Among Democrats under the age of 30, there is near-statistical unanimity that he needs to go; 94% of them say it’s time to turn the page. (Interestingly, age isn’t the reason why these younger voters have a problem with Biden; it’s his job performance and ideology.)
Put simply: Biden’s re-nomination faces a very real threat unless he gets his act together, and quick.
Democrats already find themselves in an untenable position. Polls show the midterms could be an Obamaesque “shellacking” or a George W. Bush “thumping.” History doesn’t give the party in the White House many reasons to celebrate midterm years, and Obama’s gummed-up agenda doesn’t make Democrats’ case much better. After-RoeThe world might have provided Democrats an opportunity to unite the base. But, according to all accounts, the White House was taken by surprise by the decision ending fifty years of precedent regarding abortion rights.
For sure, Biden’s loyalists have reason to puff up their chest and declare victory. It was impossible to have imagined that the septuagenarian would finish fourth in Iowa, and fifth in New Hampshire, and win the Democratic nomination quicker than anybody since 2004. Oder be the first President-elect to win since 1992. Or then build—and this is not hyperbole—the most diverse governing team in history. Confirmation of the Supreme Court’s Black first woman justice is also something to be proud about, especially as strategists consider how to create their Souls to The Polls GOTV programs targeted at Black churches.
Yet, Democrats still feel dread about Biden. Biden seems to miss moments. Those around him are making errors: Kamala Harris in the Chicago suburbs delivering a word salad of empathy; Dr. Jill Biden saying Latinos are as diverse as tacos; a Cabinet that seems eager to move up the chain even as the boss says he’s not leaving.
To be sure, the Beltway press corps and Twitter armchair army aren’t what Real America is reading. They’re watching Covid refuse to yield, inflation continuing to enjoy a strong toehold even as interest rates rise, a war in Eastern Europe messing with retirement funds. And, as a result, Biden’s approval numbers are tanking. Even among Democrats, he’s in the sluggish 70s, a figure that is a red flag for Democrats who had hoped the Dobbs decision would at least boost the party’s hopes.
The White House’s senior team has clearly had it. Both The Atlantic as well The Washington reflected this. Post observed, outgoing Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield’s choice to take aim at the party’s left signals that the inner circle still thinks things are going fine outside the bubble,Only party insiders fighting to claim turf are the ones criticizing. But those sorts of jabs aren’t going to animate suburban women. That errant spray of criticism for the progressive wing of the party may feel good, but it’s not going to fuel a triage that the Democrats need right now.
Obama did not learn the value of avoiding blame. Neither, it seems, has Biden’s team—even the communications team that the Oval Office itself partly blames for its poor standing. President Harry Truman had an indicator on his desk that stated the Buck stopped at him during the worst days of his presidency. It’s still on display at his presidential library in Independence, Mo. In his farewell address in 1953, Truman told the nation—the lone country to have used a nuclear weapon in war—that responsibility lies with the person sitting at the Resolute Desk. “The President—whoever he is—has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. Nobody else is capable of deciding his fate. That’s his job,” Truman said.
That’s a far cry from saying the focus group got it wrong and that a faction of the party needs to fall in line.
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