Biden Rebound Scenarios; Political Insider, Feckless G.O.P., Overmastered and More

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Biden Comeback

The prospect that Biden did anything unethical accidentally or cluelessly, rather than with conscious malfeasance, is more conceivable than in prior presidencies, especially in light of the classified-document revelations and the Hunter Biden entanglements.

Biden Comeback
Former U.S. President Barack Obama at a rally December 1, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. [Win McNamee/Getty Images]

Will There Be a Biden Comeback?

This week, Joe Biden attained an odd episode. The Economist and YouGov ran a credible poll showing he had a high job approval rating, with 50% of respondents finding him effective in his role as president, while only 47% disapproved of his performance.

Although Biden’s polling ratings have increased since their summer low, his average is still below 45 percent, suggesting that the poll was an exception. Even if things get better, they could be derailed by the inevitable discovery of more secret papers he secreted in the garage along with his Corvette during his time as vice president.

However, as Republicans in Congress prepare for a year of petty infighting and fiscal cliff-hanging, it’s interesting to speculate on what it would take for Biden to make a real comeback and regain his former popularity.

There were three original sins committed by the Biden administration before the midterms: three unneeded and ill-advised policies pursued by the president. These included the administration’s early choices to curb energy production and reverse some of Trump’s immigration policies, which led to a spike in gas prices and a border crisis; the American Rescue Plan’s wasteful spending, which fueled an inflationary upswing; and the Democrats’ inability to demonstrate actual moderation on cultural issues, in line with Biden’s original moderate, Catholic Democrat brand.

The disastrous pullout from Afghanistan has yet to be mentioned thus far since it was not a prominent topic during the midterm campaign and because I believed the withdrawal was a necessary and brave move, despite the catastrophic implementation. However, the slip of Kabul was a crucial turning point in the arc of Biden’s approval ratings, a time that planted the first serious questions about the administration’s competency.

Biden Comeback
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley listens to a senator’s question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations on Capitol Hill on September 28, 2021 in Washington, DC [Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images]

Liabilities and recovery scenarios

To imagine a comeback for Biden, it is necessary to see these liabilities resolved or even downsized. The economy would fare well under this scenario if the Republican-controlled House prevented any new inflationary spending, if inflation continued to fall without unemployment rising, if China’s reopening contributed to the normalization of the global economy, if Putin’s energy weapon proved to be an isolated event rather than a long-term drag, and if we were able to make it through this strange post-pandemic period without an actual recession.

The best scenario for Biden’s foreign policy would be continued advances for the Ukrainians in the spring, followed by a stable ceasefire that would allow him to claim credit for deterring Russian attack and reducing the likelihood of World War III. The White House’s handling of the Ukraine war is likely its most successful policy to date; if it still seems successful in a year, the memory of the Kabul breakdown should be washed away, but we may have a bloodier stalemate.

The new restrictions on asylum are part of the Biden administration’s apparent attempt to turn a more conservative stance on immigration and the border crisis, albeit the policy’s electoral impact will depend on its success. Meanwhile, it appears unlikely that Biden would work any noteworthy pivot on other cultural issues. At the same time, the White House might hope that a divided government will successfully soothe voter fears about wokeness without the administration needing to create friends to its left.

Recovery scenarios typically involve Republican participation in Congress. The G.O.P.’s incompetence was unquestionably a factor in Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s respective political comebacks, which can be seen as a legacy achievement of the Biden administration. From Kevin McCarthy’s previous orations, those patterns may be repeated.

Biden Comeback
Former President Bill Clinton on November 10, 2022 in New York City. [Michael Kovac/Getty Images]

The critical difference, though, is that. In contrast, Clinton and Obama were exceptionally gifted politicians at the height of their careers; Joe Biden is something else entirely: a pleasant enough political insider who is now obviously too old for his post.

The White House may unexpectedly benefit from this fact on occasion. Most significantly, however, Biden’s advanced years’ present difficulties that did not arise during the Clinton or Obama administrations. The president may appear particularly overmastered and ill-equipped to lead or turn the ship around if circumstances go against his administration, as they did in 2021 and could again in 2023 if the above possibilities stay the same. The specter of Biden’s weakened capacities may continue to weigh on his popularity even when things are going relatively smoothly, even in an obvious rebound scenario.

Assuming, of course, the Republicans come up with a formidable opponent who can stand in stark contrast to Trump in terms of strength and competence. The most likely scenario for a successful comeback and reelection of Joe Biden is banking on a former president (Trump) whom Biden has already defeated.

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