(Trends Wide) — Joe Biden’s term has become the punch line of a joke, even for the president himself.
Biden may have been generous in poking fun at himself at the White House Correspondents Association annual gala dinner on Saturday night for his lackluster approval ratings and failure to fully enact his national agenda.
But his jokes were rooted in the painful reality of a presidency held hostage by economic and global forces beyond his control and compounded by some of his White House’s tactical blunders.
The result is that a year after his approval rating comfortably passed 50%, the president and his party face the most treacherous political backdrop in years in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
High gas prices, the worst inflation in 40 years, the war in Ukraine and a lingering pandemic may ease in November. But the trajectory of those crises, and the impact they have on issues that are important to Americans and can hurt them, like the price of groceries, could also get worse.
China’s big new fight against Covid-19, for example, fueled by its low vaccination rate, and its repressive lockdowns threaten to once again crush the global supply chain lines that helped fuel inflation in the first place. And if the war in Ukraine, as expected, severely impacts the harvest in Europe’s breadbasket this year, Americans could see prices of daily staples soar, as Ukraine is a huge source of grains and oil. sunflower worldwide.
So it’s quite likely that the dire conditions currently depressing Democrats’ hopes will worsen before midterm election day.
Inflation dashes Democrats’ midterm hopes
All of this explains a sense of inevitability that sits on the conventional wisdom in Washington that Republicans are heavily favored to retake control of the House of Representatives, while the Senate could also turn red.
Some economic analysts have suggested that inflation, at its worst since the 1980s, has peaked. But a key index watched by the Federal Reserve, the personal consumption expenditures price index, rose 6.6% in the year to March, according to figures released last week. Ukraine’s war-triggered energy prices increased by 33.9% and food increased by 9.2% over the same period. Another report last week showed a surprise gross domestic product decline of 1.4% in the first quarter. While there were technicals that could mean the figure isn’t as bad as it seems, it raised fears of a recession, following warnings of a recession on the horizon from several big Wall Street banks.
These numbers hit the fundamental weakness of the Democrats’ case as they head into the midterms. Biden cannot secure full credit for the economy’s strong rebound from the pandemic and historically good job numbers because millions of Americans are unhappy with high prices.
Biden’s triumph in beating then-President Donald Trump in 2020 was an example of the power of comparisons. He offered a quiet return to leadership after the tumult of the previous four years of scandals, lies and chaos in the White House.
But the 2022 midterm elections are already turning into a referendum on the president and the Democrats, who control all the levers of political power in Washington and thus bear the brunt of the current public discontent.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll published Sunday confirms this.
While Biden’s overall job approval rating rose to 42%, only 38% of those surveyed approved of his handling of the economy. And 68% disapproved of his record on inflation. The issue was particularly vexing for independent voters who will be crucial in the tight House and Senate races in November.
The failings of the White House
The president’s plight on inflation has been exacerbated by earlier claims from his own White House that rising prices were “temporary,” an error message that threatens to undermine voters’ confidence in the pronouncements. of the administration and offering an easy target for Republicans.
And while Biden has taken several steps to deal with soaring prices, including programs to unblock US ports and a clogged supply chain and free millions of barrels of oil from the nation’s strategic reserves, his efforts don’t appear to have had a remarkable impact on the lives of many Americans. And it’s also not clear that attributing the high cost of living to “Putin’s price gouging” is getting you out of his political bind.
“Ultimately, the administration, when it comes to inflation, needs to stop saying it can’t do anything about it, right? That’s usually one of the clues to saying it’s not our fault,” said Will Hurd, a former Republican congressman from Texas, on Trends Wide’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“No one wants to hear that. And they want to say, ‘Hey, how are you going to get us out of this?'”
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Sunday that Biden was repeatedly warned in a series of confidential polling memos that inflation and the vexing issue of immigration would erode his standing and the hopes of Democrats in the midterm elections. The memos, written between April 2021 and January 2022, were obtained while reporting on the new book, “This Shall Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” by Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin.
“Voters don’t feel like I have a plan to address the situation at the border, and it’s starting to take its toll,” John Anzalone, Biden’s top pollster, and his team wrote in a memo, according to The New York Times report. .
Biden mocks his own approval rating
It was against this background that Biden stood up in the grand ballroom of the Washington Hilton hotel on Saturday night and joked: “Special thanks to the 42% of you who really clapped for me. I’m really excited to be here tonight.” with the only group of Americans with a lower approval rating than me.
That the event took place was evidence of one of the successes of the Biden presidency: the number of vaccines and tests for covid that have allowed many Americans to regain a semblance of their old lives two years after the coronavirus will shut down the economy and change the world. The president can also take credit for a rare bipartisan triumph: an infrastructure bill that sidestepped his predecessors. And his leadership helped build an unexpectedly unified Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which may have helped mitigate some of the political damage from last year’s chaotic US evacuation from Afghanistan.
However, these achievements either do not resonate with the public or the White House has failed to weave them into a coherent election narrative. The difficulties Biden has faced enacting his vast climate and social spending plan, which has been blocked by moderate Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have added to the sense of drift.
If Biden was wrong to push a sweeping reform agenda that some critics say was not implicit in his 2020 campaign, or if the White House failed to sell proposals like home health care for the elderly and free preschool education in the vast bill Build Back Better Act, Biden has been robbed of the big win in a move once likened to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
It still seems deeply uncertain whether any of Biden’s plans will be enacted, and time is fast running out before the midterm campaign dominates the political summer. The gridlock threatens to dampen enthusiasm among rank-and-file Democratic voters in November at the same time the GOP is running a campaign entrenched in extreme positions on issues like trans rights, immigration and teaching race in America’s schools to increase turnout among its most engaged voters. The GOP is overlaying those themes with claims designed to appeal to more moderate voters that high food and gas prices show Biden has wrecked the economy.
The stalled Build Back Better plan has also sparked signs of acrimony within the Democratic Party. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a leading progressive, warned on Trends Wide’s “State of the Union” last week that Democrats would lose their majority if they “don’t stand up and deliver.”
Biden has been under pressure to make good on a campaign promise to reduce the burden of student debt after repeatedly extending a Trump-era pause on federal student loan payments due to the pandemic. But forgiving $50,000 in debt per borrower, something Warren has called for, is not on the table, the president said at the White House last week after revealing a request for millions more dollars in aid for Ukraine. Biden has not made it clear whether he would use executive power to immediately provide massive debt relief.
Warren’s comments contained more than a hint of a post-election blame game seven months before voters go to the polls. They do not, however, change the fact that the narrow 50-50 Democratic majority in the Senate means that Biden does not have the technical ability to translate much of his agenda into law.
While Biden downplayed his political standing Saturday night, he privately complained that the media has not focused on the comparison between his presidency and the anarchy and scandals that defined Trump’s tenure, they reported the week. past Edward-Isaac Dovere and Trends Wide’s Kevin Liptak.
There is a possibility that Trump’s push for candidates to repeat his voter fraud lies is that this month’s Republican primary will allow Biden to develop that theme in his own midterm campaign. But as Republican Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in Virginia demonstrated last November, Democrats can no longer count on a fierce campaign against Trump when the former president is not on the ballot.