Can Biden Find His Campaign Persona and Right Course in the 2nd Year?

In News

President Joe Biden had a formal news conference last week for the second time during his presidency, notwithstanding a stalled legislative agenda and waning approval ratings.

In Summary

  • In recent weeks, Joe Biden has intensified his attacks on Republicans. The line between criticizing the minority party and appealing to swing voters is razor-thin. The president must claim his role as an empathetic and even-tempered problem solver.
  • His attacks on Republicans essentially work against him in achieving his political objectives, and legislators should consider Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda.
  • With razor-thin congressional majorities, the president cannot govern like a modern-day Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • The Democrats’ failure to conform with prevailing reality is the primary reason the G.O.P. gained ground in the 2021 elections.
President Joe Biden Job Approval Ratings Source: Gallup

Biden approval rating subpar; record low for a first-year president

According to a recent Gallup poll, President Biden has the lowest approval rating of any recent president at the one-year mark, aside from Donald Trump. Only 40% of Americans approve of Biden’s job performance, while 56% disapprove.

Among the other items discussed on Wednesday, Biden defended his administration’s accomplishments, chastised Republicans for their obstructionism and their blind deference to Donald Trump, and discussed his intention to pass the stalled Build Back Better agenda in chunks rather than as a single large package.

The president also acknowledged his declining popularity, implying that it was partly because Americans saw him act more like a senator than a commander-in-chief during the Build Back Better negotiations:

“The American people do not want me to be President-Senator,” Biden stated. “They want me to be president, and they want the senators to remain senators.”

To be sure, Biden is correct in asserting that voters do not want to see their president wrangling members of his party pass legislation — as a senator would. Additionally, he is justified in criticizing Republicans for their persistent obstructionism.

President Joe Biden

Voters’ frustration with unsuccessful transformational efforts

His assessment of his declining popularity ignores apparent facts, and his attacks on Republicans are largely counterproductive to achieving his political objectives.

Voters have turned against Biden because they feel he has disregarded to fulfill the mandate for which he was elected. As a result, Americans are frustrated by Biden’s unsuccessful — although relentless — efforts to advance a progressive agenda that transcends both his political capacities and unconcerned with the public’s immediate needs and anxieties.

Biden ran as the most centrist Democratic candidate in the 2020 primary field. And during the general election, Biden positioned himself as a unifier and problem solver who understood the plight of everyday Americans. He pledged to lead with empathy to unite Americans behind a moderate — but progressive — common-sense agenda.

Nevertheless, Biden has attempted to govern in his first year as a modern-day Franklin Delano Roosevelt: a transformational president tasked with enacting bold change. Biden has, regrettably, assumed the everyday ‘kitchen-table issues’ that affect Americans daily in his quest to be transformational.

A critical point: Many of the policies included in Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better agenda deserve legislators’ consideration. However, many Americans are looking for their president to demonstrate that he appreciates their frustrations and for the government to meet their basic needs: price control, a clear public health directive on the pandemic, crime reduction, and school closure.

President Donald Trump

Democrats’ midterm prospects deteriorate alarmingly.

Apart from any misgivings many voters may have about Biden for breaking campaign promises; one cannot govern like a modern-day Franklin Roosevelt or even Lyndon B. Johnson with razor-thin congressional majorities and an approval rating in the low 40’s. Democrats had over 300 House seats and up to 76 Senate seats during the mid-to-late 1930s when a great deal of F.D.R.’s New Deal was enacted — a far cry from the party’s present majorities.

Biden’s and the Democratic Party’s failure to act per the prevailing reality informs the impetus for the demonstrable tilt in favor of the G.O.P. in the 2021 elections in Virginia, New Jersey, & New York, and is poised to be the party’s undoing in this year’s midterm elections.

Democrats’ chances in this year’s elections are dwindling alarmingly. Within the last year, according to Gallup tracking, U.S. political party preferences shifted 14 points in favor of the G.O.P., going from a 9-point Democratic advantage at the start of 2021 to a 5% G.O.P. advantage at the end of the year.

As a result, Biden’s attacks on Republicans have stepped up in recent weeks. He painted the Republican Party as being beholden to and intimidated by former President Donald Trump during Wednesday’s press conference:

“Did you ever believe that one man who is no longer in office could intimidate an entire party into refusing to take any votes?” Biden enquired.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Scaling down on the use of divisive partisan rhetoric.

On the one hand, Biden is correct in criticizing Republicans for their obstructionist tactics and their deeply troubling acceptance of Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from him. However, any president must walk a fine line between criticizing the minority party when the situation warrants it and doing so in a way that does not alienate swing and moderate voters from that party. On the other hand, while Biden’s broadsides against the Republican Party may rally the Democratic base, they alienate the 74 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2020.

Furthermore, Biden’s harsh rhetoric toward Republicans in the run-up to the midterm elections will ring hollow unless voters feel Democrats be a viable and legitimate alternative.

Biden begins his second year in office, and the president must reclaim the persona and platform he campaigned: an empathetic and even-tempered problem solver capable of uniting Americans behind a common-sense agenda.

Though Biden has taken a new approach by splitting up the Build Back Better agenda, the president can and should do more to reach out to Republicans on critical issues such as immigration — as he did with the bipartisan infrastructure bill — rather than doubling down on divisive partisan rhetoric.

Without such a course correction, Biden’s approval ratings are likely to continue to decline, and Democrats are more likely to be defeated by Republicans in 2022.

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